In what could be a reflection of the massive power that social media giants wield, Facebook on Thursday blocked all media content for millions of Australian users in a surprise escalation of a dispute with the government.
The development was severely criticised by human rights advocates, politicians and news producers. The criticism came especially after it was clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks have been emptied from the site along with news.
What Australian PM said
The government too has heavily criticised the move, with the Australian PM Scott Morrison equating it the social media giant’s action to “unfriending Australia”. He said, “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing.”
“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.”
Why the tussle?
Notably, Australia is planning a new law that will require both Google and Facebook to enter into commercial deals with news outlets in the country as news links drive traffic to these platforms. If the tech giants do not agree on a commercial deal, they will be subjected to forced arbitration to agree to a price.
Despite the fact that Australia is a small market for the tech giants, the proposed law is under close watch by regulators of various countries. Google and Facebook are worried that if they agree to the new Australian law, the same might be adopted by other countries that will force them to share revenue with content creators.
According to publishers, tech giants such as Google and Facebook are hoarding a vast chunk of the revenue as media shifts online.
What Facebook said
Facebook Australia and New Zealand’s managing director William Easton in a blog post said, “In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share 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. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
“We have made clear to the Australian government for many months, the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers — which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million. “
“For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed.”
Impact of the move
For Australian publishers this means:
- They are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages
- Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook Page, including Page insights and Creator Studio
- Facebook will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle
For international publishers this means:
- They can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences
For Australian community this means:
- They cannot view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australian and international news Pages
For international community this means:
- They cannot view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news Pages
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