Australia Wakes Up to Empty News Feed on Facebook

Grant Boone
February 18, 2021

In response to Australia's forthcoming news media bargaining code, Facebook made a decision to take the nuclear option.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

While Facebook and the Australian play chicken with each other, fake news will continue unaffected - boosted, even, by the lack of legitimate news to compete against on the platform. Apparently, it had taken a broad definition of the proposed law, as it didn't provide a clear guidance of the definition of news content.

"Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing", Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on his own Facebook page.

RiotACT and About Regional readers have woken this morning to depopulated Facebook feeds as the social media giant makes good its threat to ban publishers and Australian users from sharing or viewing any news articles on its platform.

"In response to Australia's proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and worldwide news content", wrote William Easton, MD of Facebook Australia & New Zealand yesterday.

Facebook said it had blocked a wide swathe of pages because the draft law did not provide clearly define news content.

The code seeks to "address the bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook". Facebook says it "will have processes to review any content that was inadvertently removed", but it's unclear what the appeal process will look like.

As he voiced concerns that the move by the social media giant could generate a surge in "fake news" and "misinformation" on the platform, Scheeler warned that Facebook now wielded more power than global governments.

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Protesters also gathered outside the central bank, where they held signs calling for support for the civil disobedience movement. It wasn't clear exactly how many students were rounded up, but estimates put the figure at between 20 and 40.

The move in Australia represents a split between Facebook and Google, which had joined together for years to campaign against such laws.

After outcry from the public and members of the Australian government, a majority of the pages were unblocked on Thursday afternoon.

The escalating dispute stems from the News Media Bargaining Code, a legislative proposal introduced into Australia's parliament in December. Google now accounts for 51% of all online advertising in Australia while the Australia Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) notes that over 90% of online searches now occur through Google.

According to BBC News, Western Australia Premier Mark MCGowan described Facebook as "behaving like a North Korean dictator". For example, the state health department's Facebook pages for South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have been scrubbed, but I successfully posted a link to a News page from the ACT Health website from my personal Facebook account. "With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter", Easton added.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would not back down on its legislative agenda because of Facebook's reaction.

Facebook has paid publishers in limited circumstances, including to license headlines and for story summaries to be featured on the platform. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.

When Facebook kicked Donald Trump, who was still the US President at the time, off its platform Trump's enemies opportunistically defended the right of Facebook to do whatever it wants on the grounds that it's a "private" company.

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

"Everything that I have heard from parties, both in the news media business and in terms of digital platforms, is that these are generous deals", Frydenberg said. It also means that how you find your brunch recommendations, Netflix picks, new restaurant openings, and events to suss out on the weekend-the things you come to Urban List for-is going to change.

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