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This morning, Facebook has stopped Australians from sharing or viewing news stories in a retaliatory move after the government brought in a Media Bargaining law which endeavours to make the social media giant pay for news content.
Facebook announced this decision to block Australian users from viewing or sharing Australian or international news content on its platform this morning, Thursday 18th February.
Australian news publishers are also restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook pages. This has all been documented in a blog post by the managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand, William Easton.
In his post, Easton said: “In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” he added. “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,” he wrote.
The new Media Bargaining law applies to other platforms including Google
Late last year our Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, spoke with the Australian heads of Google and Facebook about this proposed new law. At the time, Frydenberg said he hoped this law would put digital platforms – which are backed by huge digital advertising dollars – on a more even kilter with traditional news outlets.
Now that this law is in operation, some have raised serious questions about the ‘credibility’ of the information on the Facebook platform.
Last week, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the Facebook news ban raised some questions: “It certainly raises issues about the credibility of information on the platform.”
“We want Google and Facebook to stay in Australia but we have been very clear that if you do business in Australia, you need to comply with the laws passed by the elected parliament of this nation,” he said.
Easton’s reply to this in his post was: “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.”
Facebook prefers to do it all on its terms
In his blog post, Easton addressed some of these issues saying Facebook was prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia to “significantly increase our investments with local publishers”.
“However, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place,” he added. “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.
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.”
Easton closed his post with this: “Our global commitment to invest in quality news also has not changed. We recognise that news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we recently expanded Facebook News to hundreds of publications in the UK.”
In other news this morning, our Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, said he’s been talking with Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, this morning and negotiations are continuing.