Facebook Blocks Australians From Accessing News

Facebook said Thursday that Australians will no longer be able to see or share news on the platform over a dispute of whether the company should pay for stories.

How we got here: Facebook’s ban comes after the lower house of Parliament on Wednesday cleared legislation that would require social media platforms to pay to Australian media outlets for featuring and linking to their stories.

Facebook and Australia have been debating this law ever since it was introduced last year. Facebook has previously said that it would ban Australian news from the platform if the government moves forward with the bill.

In detail: The ban will not stop publishers in Australia from posting news content on Facebook, but Australian users will not be able to view or share them on the platform, Facebook explained in a statement. Users in Australia will not be able to share any type of news, including international, while international users cannot share Australian news, though they can view it.

Facebook’s statement: “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said, according to the Associated Press. “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.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he spoke to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after the ban. He described the conversation as “constructive.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government has no intention to drop its plan about the law that would force Facebook and Google to pay for news content on their platforms.

“This announcement from Facebook, if they were to maintain this position, of course, would call into question the credibility of the platform in terms of the news on it,” Fletcher told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Effectively Facebook is saying to Australians information that you see on our platforms does not come from organizations that have editorial policies or fact-checking processes or journalists who are paid to do the work they do.”

A few mistakes? In trying to enforce its latest ban, Facebook also blocked the pages of many government entities and community organizations in Australia, such as weather forecasts, charities, and important emergency services. Facebook later said that this was unintentional and restored some of the pages.

“The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a spokesperson for the company said, according to The Guardian. “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted.”

Critics say that the ban on Australia is the latest example of Facebook’s monopolistic powers in the online world.

“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of big tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement. “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they should run it.”

“It is truly ironic that Facebook has allowed health misinformation to be spread via its platform throughout this pandemic, yet today much of this misinformation remains on Facebook while official information sources are blocked … [The decision is] corporate bullying at its worst,” Australian Medical Association President Dr. Omar Khorshid said.

“This action – this bully boy action – that they’ve undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world,” Julian Knight, chair of the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Reuters.

“We represent people and I’m sorry but you can’t run bulldozer over that – and if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco,”

Facebook’s move is “a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves,” said News Media Association chairman Henry Faure Walker.

“So much for Facebook’s commitment to free speech. We are astonished by this inflammatory move,” a spokesperson for MailOnline said.

“Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online. We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy,” said Guardian Media Group, a British media company which owns The Guardian.

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Author: Penka Arsova

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