Facebook bans all Australian news media sharing

Thursday, 18 Feb, 2021

Australia wants tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay for the content reposted from news outlets.

The tech giant's intentionally broad-brush - call it antisocial - implementation of content restrictions took down a swathe of non-news publishers' Facebook pages, as well as silencing news outlets', illustrating its planned dodge of the (future) law.

"The company will continue to see growth in ad revenue despite their users' lack of ability to share news content. Facebook's decision today will undoubtedly affect many in the Australian digital industry, and the world will watch as this could continue to spark changes across the globe", he added.

Reached for comment, Facebook confirmed it has applied an intentionally broad definition of news to restrict - saying it has done so to reflect the lack of clear guidance in the law "as drafted".

Google, for its part, has signed a "significant" deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, as well as reported US$30 million dollar deals with Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media - three of the main companies that pushed the Australian government to develop this legislation.

But Facebook said it "will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and worldwide news content".

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on his Facebook page the company's response to the proposed law was proof that tech giants believed they were "bigger than governments".

Most of the affected Pages have since been restored after working with the company, and it sounds like any other non-media organization that's been impacted will get back access to their accounts. Facebook says it "will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed", but it's unclear what the appeal process will look like.

Google has also threatened to shut down its search engine in the country to avoid "unworkable" content laws even as it has secured deals with publishers in the U.K., Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina for its Google News Showcase product.

The government contends the proposed News Media Bargaining Code will ensure media businesses will be paid fairly for journalism linked online. "What the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognize is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers". Government websites, non-for-profits and even Facebook friend connections are still accessible on Facebook and can be useful sources of information.

The move in Australia represents a split between Facebook and Google, which had joined together for years to campaign against such laws.

Several Facebook pages that regularly promote misinformation and conspiracy theories were unaffected by the ban and were not deleted.

Australians woke up on Thursday morning to find their news feeds, post history, and favourite news outlets' pages scrubbed of all links to. well, news.

Facebook, however, chose the nuclear option, rather than bargain with news publishers in Australia.

"Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing", Fletcher said.

Facebook went on to argue that Australian publishers benefit from sharing their stories. The proposed law would create a panel to make binding decisions on the price of news reports to help give individual publishers more negotiating leverage with global internet companies. Last year, Facebook generated about 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers, worth an estimated A$407 million (US$315 million), he said, without providing a basis for the calculation.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who just days earlier had touted the "great progress" he'd made during talks with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, accused the social media giant of a heavy-handed attack that undermined access to credible information. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg took personal responsibility Tuesday for the leak of data on tens of millions of its users, while warning of an "arms race" against Russian disinformation during a high stakes face-to-face with United States lawmakers.