Facebook has followed through on its threat to ban users from sharing news on its platform in Australia, in response to proposed media laws in the country that the company claims “fundamentally misunderstand” its relationship with publishers who share news content.
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 law would allow Australian news publications to negotiate for fair payment for their journalist’s work, effectively forcing social media companies to pay for news content.
Facebook and Google have had three months to negotiate with Australian media organizations to find a solution, but those discussions have failed to reach an agreement. Facebook concluded that the law “seeks to penalize Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for,” while an inquiry last month saw Google go so far as to threaten to pull its search engine from the country entirely.
Facebook’ decision means Australian news publishers are no longer able to share stories on the platform, while Facebook users won’t be able to see or share international news to local Facebook users. At the same time, Facebook users overseas won’t be able to read or share Australian content.
Announcing the change in a press release, Facebook explained its reasoning behind the nationwide content block and its total opposition to the proposed change in law:
The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. 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.
This discussion has focused on US technology companies and how they benefit from news content on their services. We understand many will ask why the platforms may respond differently. The answer is because our 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.
In fact, and as we have made clear to the Australian government for many months, the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers — which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.
For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% 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.
Australia’s communications minister Paul Fletcher hit out at the decision, telling Australia’s ABC News this morning that Facebook needs to “think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing.”
“They’re effectively saying, on our platform, there will not be any information from organizations which employ paid journalists, which have fact checking processes, editorial policies,” said Fletcher. “They’re effectively saying any information that is available on our site does not come from these reliable sources.”
The fallout from the ban is already impacting a range of Facebook-hosted organizations in the country, with the ban curtailing access to the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Queensland Health, and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA. Other pages for charities, politicians, sports groups, and other non-news organizations have also been affected.
However, the Australian government is standing by the law, which passed the lower house of parliament on Wednesday. It has broad cross-party support and will be debated again in parliament on Thursday, according to the BBC.
“We will legislate this code. We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who added that “the eyes of the world are watching what’s happening here”. He said he’d also had a discussion with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg which had been “constructive”.
The decision by the social network has been met with anger among many of its Australian users, with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook currently trending on Twitter.
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