World Media

Facebook blocks news sites, charities, government pages in Australia

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

As it has previously threatened to do, Facebook has removed news pages in Australia.

That meant the social media giant faced a wave of outrage, not just from Australian newspapers and politicians but around the world. The legislation must be passed by the Senate to become law. "People are looking at what Australia is doing".

The tech giant did also say it would reverse pages that are "inadvertently impacted".

Facebook's stunning decision to turn off the news for Australia highlights a long-troubled role for the USA tech giant which stumbled into the news business and has grown into one of its most powerful forces.

The legislation mentioned by the notice has not yet been enacted.

"Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing", wrote Prime Minister Scott Morrison on his Facebook page.

He said the events highlighted the need for competition rules to apply to social media firms, adding: "The problem that I see is that these platforms make enormous sums of money from other people's work, and they aren't returning any equitable value to them". He described it to Parliament as an "abuse of big technologies' market power and control over technology".

Google declined comment on Facebook's action.

Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook in Canada, said there were "other options to support news in Canada that will more fairly benefit publishers of all sizes". In case of a standoff, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer. Similar laws, modelled off Australia's code, are being considered in the United Kingdom and Canada.

The announcement by Facebook, defying Australia's efforts to impose a payment scheme for media featured on the platform, raises fresh questions about the future of the platform used by some two billion people and its relationship with the news media.

Dan Stinton, managing director of Guardian Australia and New Zealand, which is negotiating a licensing deal through Google's News Showcase, said Google is not just paying for links and snippets within search but the "entire benefit" that Google receives from engagement with users utilizing its search.

Media groups and Australia's government have also raised concerns that blocking verified news sources will allow misinformation to proliferate. Rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact, and state-owned Australian Broadcasting in negotiations.

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.

Health Minster Greg Hunt said the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne still didn't have its feed fixed after more than eight hours.

A Facebook spokeswoman said that CEO Mark Zuckerberg had "a constructive call with Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and again expressed our disappointment with the proposed law".

"Without fact-based news to anchor it, Facebook will become little more than a cute cats and conspiracy theories [page]", he said.

News Corp. said it would receive "significant payments" from Google under 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.

The standoff in Australia "is about the renegotiation of a relationship that has been strained for years", said Chris Moos, a researcher and lecturer with Oxford University's Said Business School.

"It won't deter us from moving ahead", he said in remarks to reporters.

The California tech giant has been investing in news through its Facebook Journalism Project in a number of countries but has sought to avoid a mandatory scheme of paying for sharing links, saying it would set a bad precedent for the internet. "Now, they get silenced, too", Mr. Gainor said.