Facebook Blocks Australians from Viewing, Sharing News Content

Ruben Hill
February 18, 2021

The pact comes amid a push for sweeping new regulations in Murdoch's homeland of Australia, where the government has been poised to crack down on tech giants by forcing them to pay local news outlets for featuring and linking to their stories.

In a statement, Facebook said that, "Actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and global news content", adding that "as the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted".

But the tech giant has also come under fire for allowing pages run by the likes of China's communist regime to post unabated, while stopping millions of Australians from accessing reliable and informative news.

Facebook said the proposed law "ignores the realities" of its relationship with publishers that use its service to "share news content".

From early Thursday, Australians were unable to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of news outlets from anywhere in the world. 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. Google has similarly threatened to shut its search engine in Australia.

On Wednesday, Facebook tried to draw a contrast with Google, arguing that publishers don't voluntarily provide articles that appear in Google search results, while they willingly post news on Facebook, which helps them reach a larger audience.

But Facebook said it "will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and global news content".

"There are negotiations going on with all the major players and the minor players at the moment", Frydenberg said.

He singled out blocks on access to certain government sites related to the coronavirus pandemic, emergency services, weather reports and other issues as "completely unrelated" to the media code.

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

Frydenberg said "none of these deals would be happening" if not for proposed legislation to create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

'This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, ' he tweeted on Thursday morning in the wake of the news. While they oppose the measure in Australia, Google and Facebook have struck separate, voluntary agreements to pay publishers.

"This legislation sets a precedent where the government decides who enters into these news content agreements, and ultimately, how much the party that already receives value from the free service gets paid", Easton said. "We will now prioritise investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences".

Google announced its plans to license news past year and revealed a new product called News Showcase in which publishers can curate and decide for themselves how to present their content on the platform.

Facebook's dramatic move represents a split from Alphabet-owned Google after they joined together for years to campaign against the laws. The company has reached pay deals with more than 450 publications globally since it launched News Showcase in October.

But News Corp's deal with Google extends beyond News Showcase. News Corp. said the payments would be "significant".

News Corp. said it would receive "significant payments" from Google in the three-year agreement, which includes heavyweight news organizations throughout the English-speaking world, such as the Wall Street Journal and New York Post in the US, the Times and the Sun in the United Kingdom, and the Australian and Sky News in Australia.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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