#DeleteFacebook trends as backlash to Australian ban grows

Modesto Morganelli
Febbraio 18, 2021

The government on 20 April 2020 requested the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to develop a mandatory code of conduct to address perceived bargaining power imbalances between local news media businesses and digital platforms such as Google and Facebook.

The tech giant's intentionally broad-brush - call it antisocial - implementation of content restrictions took down a swathe of non-news publishers' Facebook pages, as well as silencing news outlets', illustrating its planned dodge of the (future) law.

Also caught up in the ban are a number of public service providers, such as the Bureau of Meteorology and several state government health departments, whose Facebook pages appear to have been mistakenly identified as news companies. 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, using the vernacular for cutting ties with another person on the site.

Facebook said Wednesday that people and publishers in Australia can not share and view news from local and global outlets. "Imagine if a Chinese company for example had done this, we would be up in arms", said Scheeler, who resigned from Facebook in 2017.

Facebook and Google are now close to deals with major Australian media to pay for news.

But Facebook's move to block news in Australia would be hard to repeat in larger markets such as the United States and Europe as a whole - potentially hitting the company's bottom line. Google has similarly threatened to shut its search engine in Australia. Facebook pays to use fact checks from around 60 such organisations, including media outlets and specialised fact checkers, on its platform and on Instagram. Government websites, non-for-profits and even Facebook friend connections are still accessible on Facebook and can be useful sources of information.

Josh Frydenberg, Australia's Treasurer, tweeted that he had a "constructive discussion" with Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday morning Australia time.

In the wake of Facebook's unilateral censorship of all sorts of Facebook pages, parliamentarians in the country accused the tech giant of "an assault on a sovereign nation".

William Easton, Facebook Australia's managing director, felt the social media giant was backed into a corner after failing to reach a suitable agreement with the government over media codes. Sometimes they'll include recommendations for other related newsletters or services we offer.

However, Facebook claims the proposed laws create a one-sided process that forces it to pay for news at a level beyond its value.

Facebook - Australia's most popular social media platform- had been irate over a proposed media bargaining law which passed the House of Representatives on 17 February and looks set to pass the Senate within days.

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

The legislation, still being debated in parliament, is aimed at compensating a local media industry that has hemorrhaged advertising revenue to digital platforms for decades. Last year, Facebook generated about 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers, worth an estimated A$407 million (US$315 million), he said, without providing a basis for the calculation.

'What today's events do confirm for all Australians is the huge market power of these media digital giants.

Facebook went on to argue that Australian publishers benefit from sharing their stories. But we will see what happens. The restrictions also raised "very serious issues" about Australians' ability to get details about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, 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.

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