In an Unusual Move, Facebook Blocks News in Australia

Ruben Fields
February 20, 2021

Perhaps paradoxically, one of the unintended consequences of the mandatory News Media Bargaining Code might be that some Australians end up with fewer places to get reliable and trustworthy news.

Billions of people around the world rely on Facebook for essential information - not just news, but charity and government pages, emergency announcements and other important channels.

"These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them".

This week, Facebook said news makes up less than four per cent of content people see on the platform but contended that it helped Australian publishers generate about $401.1 million previous year. He said Australia had put Facebook in between a rock and hard place, and it was with a "heavy heart" that the company made its decision. Negotiations between the tech companies, the Australian government and the country's media giants - most notably, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. - may result in changes to the final version.

Guilbeault said Google would still be subject to the new Canadian law, since Ottawa wanted an approach that was fair, transparent and predictable.

"Most news media don't benefit appreciably from links in Facebook", said Paulson.

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

The data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat showed that a pickup in traffic to news sites from Google was outweighed by a significant slump in traffic from Facebook.

"There is willful blindness to this logic", Evans wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.

The proposal returned to debate in the Australian Parliament this week, with a series of amendments clarifying the final formula of the law and with guaranteed approval from the biggest opposition party and Facebook is using the moment to show it is determined to take the promise of the end.

An iPhone displays the Facebook app
An iPhone displays the Facebook app

"That is why I invite.Facebook to constructively engage because they know that what Australia will do here is likely to be followed by many other Western jurisdictions", Morrison told reporters, according to Reuters. "So, we're all behind Australia in my view".

The head of Germany's BDZV news publishers' association, Dietmar Wolff, said: "It is high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms".

Facebook shares traded down 1.1 per cent in premarket dealings on Thursday.

Publishers say platforms such as Google and Facebook hoard the bulk of revenue as media shifts online as print and broadcast advertising shrivels, forcing newspapers and TV and radio stations to scale down newsrooms or shut.

[.] Unfortunately, this means people and news organisations in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and worldwide news content on Facebook.

In the past, Google and Facebook had threatened to take strong action if the law appears to be headed for passage.

"Facebook's actions in blocking Australian news are certainly neither anti-democratic nor dictatorial", argues Dr. Salvatore Babones, a Foreign Policy columnist and an adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the decision to block emergency service sites was shocking. Some were later restored.

Still, it's unlikely that the tech giant will pull out of Australia, suggests Tama Leaver, citing the fact that the other Facebook-owned platforms - Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp - still make money in Australia. Meanwhile, Facebook's image in Australia as a harmless online gathering spot was marred by revelations it sold third-party marketers the personal data of millions of people to target in the 2016 USA election.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was as shocked as anyone when he learned that Facebook Inc. had blocked news content from its website in his country at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday.

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