Facebook announced on Thursday that it had blocked Australianson the platform because of legislative proposals in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism. Australian publishers can still post news content on Facebook, but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by the Australian audience, the US-based company said in a statement.
Australian users cannot share Australian or international news. International users outside of Australia also cannot share Australian messages.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content,” said William Easton, Facebook’s regional executive director.
“We face a difficult decision: try to comply with a law that ignores the reality of this relationship or stop allowing news content through our services in Australia. It is with a heavy heart that we choose the latter,” added Easton.
The announcement comes a day after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was described as “very promising”.. Frydenberg said after the weekend talks with Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, he was convinced that the platforms “want to make these commercial arrangements”. Frydenberg said he had a “construct” discussion “with Zuckerberg after Facebook blocked Australian messages.
“He addressed some remaining issues with the government news media’s negotiating code, and we agreed to continue our conversation to find a way forward,” Frydenberg tweeted.
However, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would not take back its legislative agenda.
“This announcement by Facebook would of course call into question the credibility of the platform in terms of the news if it kept that position,” Fletcher told Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC).
“In fact, Facebook is telling Australians that any information you see on our platforms does not come from organizations that have editorial policies or fact-checking processes in place, or from journalists who are paid for their work,” added Fletcher.
The Australian Parliament is debating bills that would force the two platforms to close deals to pay for Australian news. The Senate will review the bills after they were passed by the House of Representatives late Wednesday.
Both platforms have condemned the proposed laws as impractical.. However, Google is making pay deals with Australian news media companies under its own news showcase model. Seven West Media, the largest Australian media company, signed a deal with Google on Monday to pay for journalism. The News Corp. von Rupert Murdoch has since announced a far-reaching deal. Rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly on the verge of its own pact and ABC is also in negotiations.
News plays a bigger role in Google’s business model than in Facebook’s business model.
Easton said the public would wonder why the platforms would react differently to the proposed law, which would set up an arbitration tribunal to set a price on news if the platforms and the news business disagreed.
“The answer is that our platforms have radically different relationships with news,” said Easton.
Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s think tank for responsible technology, said Facebook’s decision will “make it a weaker social network.”
“Facebook actions mean the company’s shortcomings in privacy, disinformation and privacy protection require increased pressure on stronger government regulation,” said Lewis. “Without fact-based messages to anchor it, Facebook becomes little more than cute cats and conspiracy theories.”