Facebook placed a ban on coverage from news sites based in Australia, following a media law being proposed by the Australian government which would make tech corporations pay for news content on their platforms.
The ban from Facebook included the sharing of links to Australian news outlets, on the part of users globally, but also affected the pages of the Bureau of Meteorology, state health departments and charities, before the social media platform asserted this was an error, as reported by The Guardian.
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In a blog post, Facebook managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Will Easton, said the code proposed by the Australian government “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content”.
The post continued: “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.”
In response, federal treasurer for the Australian government, Josh Frydenberg claimed that “Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia”, as well as stating that the law would go ahead.
In addition, shadow health minister, Mark Butler said that the move was “completely irresponsible” on the part of Facebook.
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Australians need to hear from credible voices in the vaccine rollout. This is completely irresponsible from Facebook. The Morrison Government needs to fix this today. https://t.co/wPM7oibNRm
— Mark Butler MP (@Mark_Butler_MP) February 17, 2021
Reacting to the stand-off between Facebook and the Australian government, Martin Garner, COO of CCS Insight, described the situation as “a perfect example of how the wishes of big web companies are increasingly being pitted against those of national governments”.
Garner continued: “Australia’s move will be watched keenly by countries around the world. In making decisions about regulating major web players, governments have to balance their policies against the possibility that the companies could ultimately pull out of that country. But pulling out would be a bad outcome for both sides: if Facebook blocks news in Australia, it will also reflect badly on Facebook.
“We are at a point in history where the huge web players should be fully and constructively engaged with governments around the world. Governments need to embed the most advanced digital services into the way their countries run, to accelerate the digitalisation of their economies, and to achieve the efficiency gains possible to improve sustainability. The fact that relationships between some of the web players and governments are currently getting worse, with increasing antagonism, is a costly failure.”