Facebook Unfriends Australia

Facebook has blocked Australians from reading and sharing news content on their platform and has immediately come under  criticism by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates. Particularly so as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had also been taken from Facebook along with the news. Now Australians are being urged to delete Facebook. 

The social media giant says it made the decision in response to the proposed news media bargaining code currently before the Senate, which would  force Facebook and Google to negotiate with news companies for payment for content.

Under the ban, Australian publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any links on their Facebook pages. The national broadcaster, the ABC, and newspapers like The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian have millions of followers. Facebook's action has also denied Australians access to many key government agencies, including police and emergency services, health departments and the Bureau of Meteorology. Other pages for charities, politicians, sports groups and other non-news organisations were also affected. 

Facebook later released a statement which said these pages had been "inadvertently impacted" and would be reinstated, though it did not give a deadline.

In a statement, Facebook said the law left it "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.The law sought "to penalise Facebook for content it didn't take or ask for", the company's local managing director William Easton said.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, accused Facebook of “unfriending” the nation with the ban.Australian law would require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms. 

Although a comparatively small market, the Australian law is being globally reviewed by regulators and could be used to force Internet giants to share some of their revenue they make from news with the news content providers. Australian authorities had drawn up the laws to "level the playing field" between the tech giants and struggling publishers over profits. Of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media these days, A$81 goes to Google and Facebook.

Publishers say platforms such as Google and Facebook have been hoarding the vast bulk of new revenue as media shift online, even as newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations and websites are forced to shut newsrooms around the world. 

Facebook said it had blocked media content in Australia because the draft law did not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content and said its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed.

The premier of Western Australia, Mark McGowan, has accused Facebook of acting like North Korea in stinging remarks that follow the company’s decision to pull news articles entirely from its site in Australia. McGowan told reporters: “They’re behaving more like North Korea than an American company. I would urge the American Government to assist us here in resolving this matter. “It’s outside the spirit of the relationship between Australia and the United States.”

In contrast to Facebook, Google has recently signed payment deals with three major Australian media outlets. 

The Australian government has strongly criticised Facebook, saying it demonstrated the "immense market power of these digital social giants". The ban sparked an immediate backlash, with many Australians angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources. Several pointed out that Facebook was one crucial way that people received emergency updates about the pandemic and national disaster situations.

The Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg is reported to be in contact with the Australian Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in the wake of the of content from Facebook. Frydenberg described the discussion as “constructive”.

Facebook:        Reuters:          BBC:        Guardian:           Telegraph

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