Traffic to Australian news websites tumbled in the hours following Facebook’s news ban and audiences overall have not shifted to new platforms, according to data from web analytics company Chartbeat.
Facebook blocked Australians from accessing news content on its platform at around 5:30am AEDT yesterday in response to the Government’s proposed new laws forcing tech companies to pay publishers for news content.
Chartbeat — a tool used by many Australian news outlets, including the ABC — tracks in real time the number of readers on a digital article and how they were referred to the story, whether via Facebook, Google search, hyperlink, or internally through a publisher’s website or app.
Its data, collected from around 255 Australian websites, shows overall traffic to Australian news sites in the wake of the ban fell by about 13 per cent from within Australia and 30 per cent from overseas.
The percentage of Australian traffic from Facebook to news sites dropped from 21 per cent before the ban to less than 2 per cent by midday AEDT yesterday.
The data shows a normal decline in Facebook referrals as Australians went to sleep on Wednesday night.
As they awoke on Thursday morning, referral traffic climbed as normal but by 6:00am AEDT the increase had faltered before it tumbled rapidly after 7:00am as the outage began to have rolling effect.
Facebook referral traffic recorded during the peak evening period last night was roughly equivalent to what might be recorded at 3:00am on a normal day.
For readers to Australian sites coming from outside Australia, the percentage of traffic driven by Facebook dropped even further, from 30 per cent to 4 per cent.
Audience has not overall migrated to other platforms
Chartbeat chief technology officer Josh Schwartz said consumers of Australian news had not fully compensated for Facebook’s absence by shifting quickly to new platforms.
He said this was contrary to behaviour tracked during past outages of Facebook’s entire platform.
“In prior research, we’ve found that when Facebook was completely down, users shifted from Facebook to other platforms and traffic remained constant or even increased,” he said.
“This situation is quite different: Facebook is alive and well in Australia; it’s news content specifically that’s gone dark.
“When Facebook traffic dropped off, overall Australian traffic did not shift to other platforms.”
While Google search traffic remained roughly the same, the percentage of total traffic referred by Google jumped, corresponding to the drop in percentage referred by Facebook.
It rose from 26 per cent to 34 per cent in Australia, and from 38 per cent to 52 per cent outside Australia.
Australian publishers relied more on Facebook than global average
Mr Schwartz said Facebook’s presence was notably strong in the Australian news market.
“If we were talking about a country other than Australia, which has such a uniquely large diaspora, we may have been having a different conversation.”