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Facebook pulls the plug on news in Australia - will the ban last?

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 18 February 2021, 1:04 pm

Big Tech's relationship with Australians has taken a dive, with Facebook following through on its threats to block news from Australian media outlets from appearing on its platform.

It means that the likes of The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald and national broadcaster ABC no longer have their articles being posted and shared by readers in their Facebook newsfeeds.

Facebook explained its actions in a blog post this morning, telling users that the move is in response to Australia's proposed new Media Bargaining law, which requires Facebook and Google to negotiate with local media outlets over payments the tech giants will make for running snippets of media content. The legislation introducing the code was passed on Wednesday evening.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content," wrote William Easton, managing director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand.

"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 Sydney Morning Herald reported that Facebook pages of government agencies such as the Bureau of Meteorology, SA Health, ACT Health and Queensland Health, had also been affected, at a time when they are relying on social media to get public health messages out relating to Covid-19.

Australia-based Facebook users have also reported being unable to post links to news articles today, including from international news outlets.

The move comes as Google, which had more aggressively led opposition to the media bargaining code with a threat to pull its search engine from the Australian market, signed a global deal with News Corp., publisher of The Australian, to pay the company for featuring its news content in Google's Featured News panel on its websites and apps.

It has done a similar deal, reportedly worth A$30 million annually, with Nine Entertainment Co, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and runs several TV stations, to republish snippets of its content.

Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg hailed the Google deal as an "historic moment" and one that would appear to be in the spirit of the media bargaining code. But he appeared to have no advance notice of Facecbook's move to stop carrying news content, despite having several conversations with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in recent years.

With Google hammering out a deal, the pressure now will be on Facebook to come back to the negotiating table. The Australian Government is certainly not backing down on its plan to make Facebook pay for running news content, which the social media giant suggests makes up just 4% of content on its platform.

"We'll be maintaining the path that we've been following. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and I have been very consistent on that," Australia's Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, said today. 

The question then is whether Facebook will maintain its ban on news outlets and what effect the move will have on media outlets. 

In the meantime, Fletcher suggested the move would exacerbate the spread of misinformation on Facebook, with users unable to share credible media reports to refute bogus claims.

"Obviously the Australian government will consider that very carefully but it certainly raises issues about the credibility of information on the platform," he said. 


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David Lane 19 February 2021, 5:39 pm

I wonder if the many businesses, organisations, and *gov't departments* whose entire user/customer interaction, sales/marketing channels, event coordination, and streaming, depend on using Facebook... are starting to think... "oops. We've made a huge blunder. They guys can shut off the tap any time they like, and if they do, we're completely hosed." I hope so, but I fear not. When it comes to tech, most people wouldn't save themselves even if they knew how - the learnt helplessness is so pervasive.

David Lane 19 February 2021, 5:41 pm

And yes, by that I mean that they *all* need to diversify their technology platforms if they want to mitigate that existential threat. And no, I don't mean going to another of the Frightful Five. Talk about out of the frying pan, into the fire. No, try going to your local market.

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