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Australian news sites' traffic falls after Facebook blocks content -Chartbeat

By Elizabeth Culliford and Sheila Dang

Feb 18 (Reuters) - Total web traffic to Australian newssites dropped by around 13% after Facebook Inc blockedtheir content on the social media platform this week, accordingto early data that underscores the outsize impact the has on the local market.

The data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat showedthat a pickup in traffic to news sites from Google wasoutweighed by a significant slump in traffic from Facebook.

"Unfortunately, Facebook's disappearance has resulted in ahit to publishers' traffic numbers: when Facebook trafficdropped off, overall Australian traffic did not shift to otherplatforms," a Chartbeat spokeswoman said.

The Chartbeat data, which compared both domestic and foreigntraffic to around 250 Australian news publishers on Wednesdaybefore the ban to Thursday, provides some of the first tangibleevidence of the impact of Facebook's move.

The social media giant on Wednesday barred users fromsharing or reading news from Australian publishers on itsplatform in protest of a looming law that will force it andAlphabet Inc's Google to pay publishers for content.

Google and Facebook had campaigned together against thelaws, which are 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 inrecent days.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from variousplatforms used outside the country fell by about 30%, theChartbeat data showed.

Chartbeat said that the percentage of traffic in Australiato the news sites from Google Search rose from around 26% on theday before the ban to about 34% afterward, while traffic fromFacebook fell from around 21% to about 2%.

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

The Chartbeat data also found that the percentage of trafficto news sites coming from Facebook outside of Australia fellfrom around 30% to about 4%, while Google Search grew fromaround 38% to about 52%.

The Chartbeat spokeswoman said foreign readership ofAustralian news sites is driven heavily by Facebook, withhistorical data showing around 15% of visits to Australianpublishers being driven by Facebook compared to 12% of visits topublishers globally.

A 2020 University of Canberra study found 21% of Australiansuse social media as their primary news source and 39% of thepopulation uses Facebook to receive news.(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in New York and Sheila Dangin Dallas, additional reporting by Paresh Dave; editing by JaneWardell)