Facebook To Block News Sharing In Australia Over Proposed Law Change

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Blunt message for Australian politicians, as Facebook warns it will block news sharing down under if proposed law is approved

Facebook has bluntly warned its users down under that it will prevent them sharing local and international news, if Australia presses ahead with new legislation.

Australia is proposing new laws that will require companies such as Facebook, to pay media outlets for the use of their news content.

Australia is not opposed to confronting technology firms head on. In December 2018 for example, it passed a law that requires tech firms to give police access to encrypted data, in cases where it could be linked to criminal or militant activity.

Australia flag parliament government © Neale Cousland Shutterstock

News content

And now Australia is once again incurring the wrath of technology firms, which argue the proposed legislation is unfairly skewed toward publishers.

Facebook’s warning to Australian users was made by Will Easton, MD of Facebook Australia & New Zealand in a hard hitting and very blunt blog post on Monday.

“Australia is drafting a new regulation that misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect,” wrote Easton. “When crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other.”

“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” Easton added. “This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

Facebook said that it shared the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, but its solution “is counterproductive to that goal.”

“The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers,” wrote Easton. “Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers.

Easton said that Facebook’s own proposals were overlooked.

Bad legislation?

“Instead, we are left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, no business can operate that way.”

“Our global commitment to quality news around the world will not change either,” Easton concluded. “And we will continue to work with governments and regulators who rightly hold our feet to the fire. But successful regulation, like the best journalism, will be grounded in and built on facts. In this instance, it is not.

Google has also expressed its opposition to this Australia legislation and used its search web page in Australia to warn local users that it would harm their ability to search.

French battle

In April this year Google was instructed by the French competition authority to pay French publishers and news agencies for re-using content or news.

Google in September last year had stopped its users in France from being able to view news snippets from European publishers on search results.

That meant that French web users were only be able to see the headlines, and not the first few lines or a thumbnail image for news content, unless of course the publishers specifically gave permission for it to show previews.

That came after the European Union passed a controversial copyright law reform in March 2019.

After a long battle, the European Parliament had backed the copyright reforms that aim to close loopholes that had allowed big tech companies such as Google and Facebook to provide news from third-party sources without paying for it.

In Germany, meanwhile, Google opted to feature only content from those who agreed to provide it for free.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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