Published: Thu, February 18, 2021
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In surprise move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia

In surprise move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia

Google is striking deals in Australia to pay for journalism but Facebook is vowing to restrict news sharing as Australian lawmakers consider forcing digital giants into payment agreements.

Meanwhile, a statement by Facebook read that the proposed law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

The company also blocked satirical pages including the popular "Betoota Advocate" and some government pages including state health pages which provide important coronavirus updates and the Bureau of Meteorology, which provides disaster updates.

Outrage fast-followed Facebook's announcement yesterday that it was making good on its threat to block Australian users' ability to share news on its platform. 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", the blog post from Facebook said.

News Corp. said it would receive "significant payments" from Google under the three-year agreement, which includes heavyweight news organizations throughout the English-speaking world such as The Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the U.S., the Times and the Sun in the United Kingdom, and The Australian and Sky News in Australia.

"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", a company spokesman said.

Facebook's move has also raised questions about countries' "digital sovereignty" after some emergency response Facebook pages used to alert the public to fires, floods and other disasters were inadvertently hit.

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.

Google had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable.

Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, owned by Nine Entertainment Co Ltd, tweeted: "Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, unsafe radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform".

"I've spoken to Facebook this morning and said the Government expects them to restore those pages as quickly as possible".

Several Facebook pages that regularly promote misinformation and conspiracy theories were unaffected by the ban and were not deleted. Australian users are still seeing fake news - which now doesn't have to compete with the real stuff.

However Facebook's blunt action has also attracted criticism that it's putting business interests before human rights - given it's shuttering users' ability to find what might be vital information, such as from hospitals and government departments, in the middle of a pandemic.

Mark Zuckerberg personally reached out to officials as part of the crusade against the country's "News Media Bargaining Code" legislation, but failed, Australian Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed, as quoted by 7News. Sometimes they'll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer.

Communications minister Paul Fletcher told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Facebook needs to think about what its decision means for its "reputation and standing".

The move is a retaliation to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) proposed Media Bargaining law, which seeks to redress the balance in terms of the bargaining power between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms.

"The value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers", it wrote, saying its platform generated 5.1 billion referrals to Australian publishers.

"What today's events do confirm for all Australians is the enormous market power of these media digital giants", he said.

"Although this may be something we've taken for granted for many years to see things on Facebook, ultimately these decisions are being made in Silicon Valley".

Global users outside Australia also can not share Australian news.

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