Thursday, 18 February 2021 07:48

Facebook blocks Australians from viewing, sharing news content Featured

Facebook blocks Australians from viewing, sharing news content Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Social media giant Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content, the company has said, adding that this is in response to the news media code that was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday night.

In a blog post, William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said the law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

"It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter."

The Federal Government introduced the News Media and Digital Platforms Bargaining Code into Parliament in December, but has said recently that it would soften the law after Google had responded by signing deals with many publishers.

In a tweet posted after the Facebook action was known, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said: "This [Thursday] morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from #Facebook.

"He raised a few remaining issues with the government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward."

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told 2GB's Ben Fordham: “We’ll be maintaining the path that we’ve been following.

“There are already questions about the credibility of information and sources on the Facebook platform.

“They’re basically saying to Australians: ‘If you’re looking for reliable news, Facebook is not the place to look for it'.

“It’s certainly something that raises concern… the government will consider this very carefully.”

Facebook has not made any statement about similar deals, with the statement about curbs being the first announcement about the Australian law in a long time.

Easton outlined what Facebook's action meant for different audiences:

"For Australian publishers this means:

"They are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages.

"Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook Page, including Page insights and Creator Studio.

"We will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle.

"For international publishers this means:

"They can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

"For our Australian community this means:

"They cannot view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australian and international news Pages.

"For our international community this means:

"They cannot view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news Pages."

Google had threatened, during a Senate hearing in January, that it would withdraw its search service from Australia if the government insisted on pushing its legislation through.

But it started cutting deals after Alphabet and Google chief executive Sundar Pichai had a video exchange with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on 4 February.

On Thursday morning, News Corporation, which owns about three-quarters of the newspapers in Australia, announced a global deal with Google.

Easton said: "For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed. Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences.

"Over the last three years we’ve worked with the Australian Government to find a solution that recognises the realities of how our services work. We’ve long worked toward rules that would encourage innovation and collaboration between digital platforms and news organisations. Unfortunately, this legislation does not do that. Instead it seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for."

He said Facebook had been ready to launch Facebook News in Australia and significantly increase its investments with local publishers.

"However, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place. This legislation sets a precedent where the government decides who enters into these news content agreements, and ultimately, how much the party that already receives value from the free service gets paid. We will now prioritise investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences," he added.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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