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Facebook Restricts News in Australia Due to a Proposed Law That Will Compel the Tech Company to Pay Publishers

Despite the great importance of spreading reliable news and updates fast during these times, tech giant Facebook has opted to block the posting and access of news content on its platform in Australia, affecting both the publishers and communities in the country.

The decision was as Facebook believes that the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code from the Australian government would only do more harm than good. In a statement, Facebook said that the proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between its 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”, William Easton, Managing Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand announced on 17th February.

Facebook explained in a separate blog last January that the proposed law included a one-sided regulatory proposal that ignored the value that its platform brings to news organisations. In addition, the tech company said that the legislation does not provide solutions that will help the news industry over the long-term.

Outlining the primary reasons for this decision, Facebook highlighted three areas they deem “unworkable” within the proposed law:

  1. Mandating commercial arrangements with every single one of a large number of publishers regardless of the value they provide to the people who use Facebook’s products.
  2. A process that removes all autonomy to decide their commercial arrangements and uses binding arbitration to determine price over good-faith negotiations.
  3. A non-differentiation clause prevents Facebook from offering commercial terms to certain publishers and changing how it displays their content regardless of whether a deal was agreed. This means that if one publisher is out, all Australian publishers need to be out.
“We hope that in the future, the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers”, said Facebook.
The recent restriction of Facebook in the country affected many organisations and people.

For Australian publishers, this means that they are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages. International publishers, however, can continue to publish news content on Facebook but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

As for the Australian community, they would not be able to view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australian and international news pages. Similarly, the international community also cannot view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news pages.

However, various reports said that this decision by Facebook has also affected organisations outside the news industry, in what can be called ‘collateral damage’. According to NPR, some weather forecasting sites, public health agencies and support services, including resources for victims of domestic violence, were blocked along with news publishers.

Many believe that this action from Facebook serves as a stern reminder of the tech giant’s power over the media and the proposed law hopes to reverse it in a way and keep some of that power in check.

In the NPR post, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, said the proposed law is an attempt to reinvigorate flailing news organisations, which have seen substantial amounts of advertising revenue siphoned by tech giants like Facebook.

Facebook has also seen various disputes from other governments in the past because of the company’s stance, especially with its peddling of news – legitimate or otherwise. In 2016, Facebook was accused of misusing users’ data in the campaign for the then US President Donald Trump. A study even found that Facebook spreads fake news faster than any other social website.

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