Australian news sites' traffic falls after Facebook blocks content

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms used outside the country fell by about 30 per cent. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Total Web traffic to Australian news sites dropped by around 13 per cent after Facebook Inc blocked their content on the social media platform this week, according to early data that underscores the outsize impact the US company has on the local market.

The data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat showed that a pickup in traffic to news sites from Google was outweighed by a significant slump in traffic from Facebook.

"Unfortunately, Facebook's disappearance has resulted in a hit to publishers' traffic numbers: When Facebook traffic dropped off, overall Australian traffic did not shift to other platforms," a Chartbeat spokesman said.

The Chartbeat data, which compared both domestic and foreign traffic to around 250 Australian news publishers on Wednesday (Feb 17) before the ban to Thursday, provides some of the first tangible evidence of the impact of Facebook's move.

The social media giant on Wednesday barred users from sharing or reading news from Australian publishers on its platform in protest against a looming law that would force it and Alphabet Inc's Google to pay publishers for content.

Google and Facebook had campaigned together against the law, which is expected to be passed by Parliament within days, and both threatened to cancel services in Australia. Google, however, sealed pre-emptive deals with several media outlets in recent days.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms used outside the country fell by about 30 per cent, the Chartbeat data showed.

Chartbeat said that the percentage of traffic in Australia to the news sites from Google Search rose from around 26 per cent on the day before the ban to about 34 per cent afterward, while traffic from Facebook fell from around 21 per cent to about 2 per cent.

The analytics firm said that it counts Australian Broadcasting Corp and Australian Community Media among the publishers it works with, but could not say if any specific publishers were included in this data.

The Chartbeat data also found that the percentage of traffic to news sites coming from Facebook outside of Australia fell from around 30 per cent to about 4 per cent, while Google Search grew from around 38 per cent to about 52 per cent.

The Chartbeat spokesman said foreign readership of Australian news sites is driven heavily by Facebook, with historical data showing around 15 per cent of visits to Australian publishers being driven by Facebook compared to 12 per cent of visits to publishers globally.

A 2020 University of Canberra study found 21 per cent of Australians use social media as their primary news source and 39 per cent of the population uses Facebook to receive news.

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