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Facebook, Google to be investigated by Australian watchdog

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will investigate if digital platforms like Facebook are helping or hurting Australian journalism.

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The Australian government wants to know if internet giants like Facebook and Google are unfairly damaging news media in the country. 

The Australian Compeition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said on Monday it'll be starting an inquiry to examine how new digital platforms are impacting Australian journalism and advertising, and to see if that impact benefits Australians or detriments them.

"Through our inquiry, the ACCC will look closely at the impact of digital platforms on the level of choice and quality of news and content being produced by Australian journalists," said the watchdog's chairman, Rod Sims. "The ACCC goes into this inquiry with an open mind and will study how digital platforms such as Facebook and Google operate to fully understand their influence."

It comes as Facebook, used by 2 billion people a month, struggles to battle its fake news problem, which some worry may have influenced the 2016 US presidential election. In September, CEO Mark Zuckerberg disclosed that Facebook sold $100,000 worth of ads to Russian-linked accounts. Later that month, Facebook said Russian-backed content, which also includes unpaid "organic" posts, was seen by more than 126 million people on the social network.  

"While news is only a small part of the content shared on our services, we take our role in the media ecosystem very seriously and invest significantly in products that support publishers," a Facebook spokesperson said. "We look forward to a thorough inquiry into the Australian media market."

Google was contacted for comment.

Outside of quality control, the ACCC said the investigation will also explore how digital platforms are helping or hurting the media business. 

"There are growing concerns that digital platforms are affecting traditional media's ability to fund the development of content," Sims said, with the ACCC's press release pointing to the continuing trend of advertisers spending more on digital media and less on print media.   

The ACCC's preliminary report will be released in December 2018, followed by a full report in June 2019.

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