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Why did Facebook block news in Australia?

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(Pocket-lint) – Facebook on Wednesday announced it started restricting Australian users from viewing or sharing news. The social network came to this decision due to a proposed law in the country that aims to require Facebook to pay news publishers for content. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s happening?

  • Facebook responds to potential regulation by blocking news in Australia
  • It is preventing Australian users and publishers from viewing/sharing news
  • Google made a different decision in response to the proposed law in Australia

Facebook is preventing Australian users from accessing news on Facebook, and it’s blocking Facebook Pages from sharing news. Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code is seen as a controversial piece of legislation, and Facebook blames it for its decision to block news in the country.  

Basically, news outlets say they should be compensated for articles shown on online platforms such as Facebook and Google. Under the proposed law, news outlets could bargain with Facebook and Google for compensation for news content shown on their platforms. A FAQ about the legislation notes the code was created to “address a bargaining power imbalance” between Australian news outlets and online platforms.

On 17 February 2021, in response to the pending law, Google struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, ensuring it could show news from that organisation in Australia. Facebook, however, has decided to prevent people from sharing news links around the world. Keep in mind Facebook’s decision comes amid rising tensions between social media giants and governments trying to regulate the tech industry.

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Why is Facebook blocking news?

  • Facebook says 4 per cent of users in Australia see news in their feed
  • It argues users and publishers willingly share news on Facebook
  • It claims ‘value exchange’ with publishers is not in its favour

Facebook said it made a different decision than Google because displaying news on its platform has “minimal” benefits. It claimed news makes up less than 4 per cent of the content users see in their news feed. However, according to a 2020 report by the News and Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra in Australia, approximately 39 per cent of Australians use Facebook to read news.

Facebook is also arguing it is different from Google because users and publishers choose to post news on Facebook. Here’s how William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, explained the social network’s take in a 17 February 2021 blog post:

“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences, and increase advertising revenue. In fact, and as we have made clear to the Australian government for many months, the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers.”

Needless to say, Facebook’s decision is drawing criticism from across the world, including from Australian news outlets and politicians. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post that the social network’s actions were as “arrogant as they were disappointing”.

How does this decision impact you?

  • Australian users are blocked from sharing and views news
  • Ban includes Australian or international news content
  • This could happen elsewhere if countries try to regulate Facebook

Facebook said Australian users will be blocked from sharing and viewing Australian or international news content on the social network.

While international publishers can still post news content, links and posts can’t be shared by an Australian audience. Australian users who try to share news are already seeing an alert about the restriction and that it is in response to Australian government legislation.

Meanwhile, Australian publishers are no longer allowed to share or post content on Facebook Pages. Some users who visit an Australian news outlet’s Facebook Page are no longer see any articles displayed. The thing is, Facebook doesn’t say how it defines a news publisher. As a result, there are reports that some Facebook Pages have been blocked in error, but Facebook has said it is working to correct those mistakes.

When do the restrictions go into effect?

  • The new restrictions started in Australia on Wednesday

Facebook’s news-sharing restrictions in Australia started rolling out on Wednesday 17 February 2021.

Writing by Maggie Tillman.

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