Social media giant bans Australian news content

Facebook has responded to a proposed new law by banning Australian users from reading or sharing news on its platform.

The stunning decision was made in retaliation to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law.

In a nutshell, the decision means Australian news publishers will no longer be able to share stories on Facebook, and international news won’t be visible or able to be shared by local Facebook users, while overseas Facebook users also won’t be able to read or share Australian content.

Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director William Easton defended the shock call in a lengthy statement.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” he wrote.

“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.”

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The discussion involving the proposed law centred on American-based tech firms such as Facebook, and how they benefited from news being shared on their platforms.

But Mr Easton argued that Facebook’s platforms “have fundamentally different relationships with news”.

“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue,” he said, claiming the arrangement worked in publishers’ favour.

“Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million,” he posted.

“For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4 per cent 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.”

He also claimed the company was prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia and “significantly increase our investments with local publishers” – but only “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,” the statement reads.

“We will now prioritise investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences.”

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But late last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission slammed the then-threat to ban news in Australia.

“The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google,” ACCC chairman Rod Sims said in a statement at the time.

“Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.”

And when Facebook first announced the plan in September, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg insisted the nation did not respond to “coercion or heavy-handed threats”.

The following month, the so-called “Tech-xit” report from the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology found that the Facebook ban would allow disinformation to “run rampant” in Australia and “worsen an already questionable information environment”.

The announcement has sent shockwaves through the local and international media industries, with high-profile reporters and media companies expressing their dismay on Twitter.

-More to come

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