Facebook's Australian news ban took down government Pages

Front pages of Australian newspapers are displayed featuring stories about Facebook in Sydney Feb. 19 2021

Facebook underscored that news makes up less than 4 percent of the content users see in their News Feed and said it helped Australian publishers generate $318 million previous year.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content", Managing Director for Facebook Australia and New Zealand William Easton said in the statement.

Facebook said on Thursday that because the bill "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".

"We obviously rely on Facebook to share our news and content to our readers throughout the world but have always remained true to our main existence as a website". 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 US election.

Google had threatened to remove its search abilities from Australia because of the House measure.

If the tech giant was hoping to kick off a wider debate about the merits of Australia's (controversial) plan to make tech pay for news (including in its current guise, for links to news - not just snippets of content, as under the EU's recent copyright reform expansion of neighbouring rights for news) - Facebook has certainly succeeded in grabbing global eyeballs by blocking regional access to vast swathes of useful, factual information.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Thursday blasted Facebook's actions as harmful to its presence in the country, calling the potential legislation "important" reform. But Thorson said that despite the small percentage, "for many people Facebook is their main source of information", making it a critical part of civic discourse.

Still, the news media industry has seen its woes deepen as digital giants such as Facebook and Google dominate the market for online advertising in much of the world.

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

By pulling the trigger on news content and especially mistakenly scrapping welfare sites, Facebook may have shot itself in the foot - going as far as to even ban its own Facebook page on the platform.

British MP Julian Knight backed the Australian Government's move to tighten laws on tech giants.

Many believe that Facebook's action is rash. Facebook would have been better off if it had given Australians a choice to opt out of news, he suggested. It said Facebook also blocked some government communications, including messages about emergency services.

Facebook fears that similar legislation will pass in other countries.

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". Google committed $1 billion over three years to the program. But, instead, Google reached compromises with several companies.

The Bureau of Meteorology's weather warnings, a Hobart women's shelter and the Betoota Advocate, a satirical website named after an Australian ghost town, were among those surprised to find their content blocked at least temporarily.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp was the latest to announce a deal in which it will receive "significant payments" from Google in return for providing content for the search engine's News Showcase account. News Corp shared on Wednesday that it had come to an agreement with Google which included "the development of a subscription platform, the sharing of ad revenue via Google's ad technology services, the cultivation of audio journalism and meaningful investments in innovative video journalism by YouTube". It is doing this because it is not willing to pay anyone for sharing news.

A News Corp spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Thomson also held up the partnership as a major win in the company's long fight against tech platforms. "For many years, we were accused of tilting at tech windmills, but what was a solitary campaign, a quixotic quest, has become a movement, and both journalism and society will be enhanced".

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