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Facebook Threatens to Block News Sharing in Australia

Michael Behr

,

Facebook

Facebook has updated its terms of service giving it the power to block content to avoid regulatory risks in preparation for the move.

Social media giant Facebook has threatened to block news content in Australia in response to proposed regulations that would require it and similar companies to pay news publishers for their content.

The company said that Australians would no longer be able to share news content on Facebook if the proposal becomes law.

In a blog post, Facebook said that the move “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”.

The move is part of a growing row between Australia and tech giants Google and Facebook.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has been pushing the tech majors to pay smaller news organisations for content published on their platforms. Lawmakers say the move, a world first, will give more bargaining rights to small news publishers and bring about fair payment for news.

However, Google hit back with a statement claiming that the law would negatively affect the quality of its service in Australia and would unfairly advantage major news organisations over smaller businesses. It also claimed that the law would put users’ data at risk and that the move ignores the contribution Google has made to making news sites visible.

Facebook said: “Over the first five months of 2020 we sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook’s News Feed back to Australian news websites at no charge – additional traffic worth an estimated $200 million AUD to Australian publishers.

It added that the regulations “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”.

The regulations would also extend to affect Facebook-owned image-sharing site Instagram.

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Both Facebook and Google collect around 70% of global media advertising revenue, the lifeblood of the news publishing industry.

A statement from ACCC Chair Rod Sims said: “Facebook’s threat today to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived.

“The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google.

“Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.”

The ACCC is preparing to deliver the final version of its proposal – however, it will still need to be passed through parliament.

Facebook did not provide a timescale for blocking news content in Australia, simply that it would take place if the law were passed. However, on 1 September, it updated its terms of use to say that it can block content anywhere in the world or restrict users from accessing its services if such a move is warranted to avoid regulatory risks. The change will come into effect from October 1.

Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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