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Facebook cuts off news in Australia in fight over payments

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Region Media responds to Facebook's ban on local news

Google has elected to meet the Australian government's demands and pay news organisations for "publishing" their content.

Facebook said in its statement that the law, which is expected to be passed by parliament within days, "fundamentally misunderstands" the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news.

By mid-afternoon, many government-backed Facebook pages were restored but several charity pages and all media sites remained dark, including those of worldwide outlets like the New York Times, the BBC, News Corp's Wall Street Journal and Reuters.

"This announcement from Facebook, if they were to maintain this position, of course would call into question the credibility of the platform in terms of the news on it", Fletcher told Australian Broadcasting Corp. Apparently, it had taken a broad definition of the proposed law, as it didn't provide a clear guidance of the definition of news content.

Without reliable news from Australian media companies on Australian Facebook pages, the company will have to ramp up checks on dubious material that hasn't been blocked, said Johan Lidberg, an associate professor at Melbourne's Monash University who specializes in media and journalism.

From Thursday Australians were unable to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of local and global news outlets, while Aussie news sources disappeared from the site worldwide.

The proposed Media Bargaining law requires companies like Facebook and Google to pay media companies for the news content that's aggregated and disseminated on their platforms.

"Our goal was to find a resolution that strengthened collaboration with publishers, but the legislation fails to recognize the fundamental relationship between us & news organizations", Facebook's news partnerships head Campbell Brown said in a tweet.

It's possible that Australia's proposed law could set a precedent with other countries around the world that have watched Facebook and Google impact their respective news industries. The effects of this move are far-reaching - not only will Australian news sources become unavailable and unsharable on Facebook, but global readers won't be able to see Australian content either.

Google had threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia in response to the legislation, which would create a panel to make pricing decisions on news.

The bargaining code, which would require social media companies to pay media outlets for using their content, is now making its way through parliament.

Mr Morrison said his government would not be intimidated by the tech giant.

Unfortunately, the fallout of such a code-and Facebook removing news content-goes well beyond just news.

The Federal Government has urged Facebook to restore official government pages as a matter of urgency, after numerous health department accounts were silenced online. "With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter", Easton added.

But communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would not back down on its legislative agenda.

When Facebook kicked Donald Trump, who was still the US President at the time, off its platform Trump's enemies opportunistically defended the right of Facebook to do whatever it wants on the grounds that it's a "private" company.

Facebook says through referrals, it helped Australian publishers earn around AU$407 million past year.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt has unleashed on Facebook after it balked at the government attempt to make it pay news publishers.

But Reset Australia, which aims to counter digital threats to democracy, said the Australian news blackout revealed "just how little the platform cares about stopping misinformation".

'What today's events do confirm for all Australians is the vast market power of these media digital giants. A 2020 University of Canberra study found 21pc of Australians use social media as their primary news source and 39pc of the population uses Facebook to receive news.

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