Thursday, March 4

Facebook blocks Australian news content in line over media bill

Facebook prevented people from viewing and sharing news content in Australia due to a proposed law to make digital giants pay media organizations.

Users in Australia were unable to view posts from news organizations on Thursday and instead saw a blank feed indicating that there are no posts yet for those websites. They also cannot share news articles on the social media platform.

The restrictions were even extended to some government services, with the Queensland Department of Health declaring its Facebook page inactive but later restored.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology said its Facebook page was also down, but was later reinstated by the company. They encouraged Australians to use their website or app instead of social media to view the content.

Facebook has said that the “Australian proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content.”

“It has left us faced with a tough choice: to try to comply with a law that ignores the reality of this relationship, or to stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With heavy hearts, we are choosing the latter,” said William Easton . , Managing Director of Facebook in Australia and New Zealand.

The Media Negotiation Act is designed to correct a “power imbalance” between digital platforms and organizations, providing standards and allowing organizations to receive payments for content.

It also introduces minimum standards so that news organizations are aware of changes in algorithms and the availability of user data.

Facebook’s regional CEO Easton said the legislation “seeks to penalize Facebook for content that it did not take or request.”

Facebook’s move also came amid government talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who is also against the legislation.

Australia’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Wednesday he had a “constructive discussion” with Zuckerberg.

“He raised some outstanding issues with the government media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a way forward,” Frydenberg tweeted.

Marietje Schaake, from Stanford University’s Center for Cyber ​​Policy, said that “Facebook leaves Australia because of a law that it does not like, it implies that it agrees with the laws of other countries,” citing a law in Turkey that required digital platforms to appoint representatives to manage complaints from authorities and remove content.

She tweeted that the proposed legislation is not yet in force in Australia “so this may also be the kind of strong weapon through which Facebook hopes to intimidate your way to the desired outcome.”

Government Communications Minister Paul Fletcher questioned why Facebook “would resist the introduction of blocking requirements under our legislation in relation to hateful violent material, but it turns out that thousands of pages of totally objectionable content can be blocked overnight. in the morning”.

Fletcher said the Australian government was “committed to this code” and that Facebook should return to a sensible conversation with the government.

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