Facebook’s decision to remove Australian news from the social media network has been slammed as ‘wrong, unnecessary and heavy-handed’ by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who revealed the government wasn’t given any notice by the tech giant.
The social media site announced on Thursday that Australian users and publishers would be restricted from viewing or sharing domestic and international news on the site, effective immediately.
The move is in response to the proposed Media Bargaining law, which would force tech companies like Facebook and Google to negotiate with news providers to feature their content.
Mr Frydenberg said the social media giant was ‘wrong’ in its controversial decision, which he believes will ‘damage its reputation here in Australia’.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has slammed Facebook’s decision to remove Australian news from the social media network as ‘wrong, unnecessary and heavy-handed’
Facebook has banned publishers and users in Australia from posting and sharing news content as the Australian government prepares to pass laws that will require social media companies to pay news publishers for sharing or using content on their platforms
‘Their decision to block Australians’ access to government sites – be they about support through the pandemic, mental health, emergency services, the Bureau of Meteorology – were completely unrelated to the media code which is yet to pass through the Senate,’ he said.
‘What today’s events do confirm for all Australians is the immense market power of these media digital giants.
‘These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape.’
Mr Frydenberg said the Morrison government remains committed to legislating and implementing the code.
‘We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content,’ he said.
‘This is critical to sustaining public interest journalism in this country, and this is world-leading.’
Facebook also blocked important government information pages including the weather bureau, health departments and police agencies.
In the process, charities and community groups have been targeted in the widespread censorship blitz.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has previously held talks with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – leaving him under the impression the social media giant was willing to enter into a commercial arrangement – something Thursday’s shock decision turns on its head
The social media giant claims it has been left with no choice, arguing the bargaining code is poorly worded.
‘As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,’ a Facebook spokesman said in a statement.
‘However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted.’
Mr Frydenberg said the government did not know the ban would come into force on Thursday.
‘We certainly weren’t given any notice by Facebook,’ he said.
It comes after the treasurer spoke with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Sunday – and again in the wake of Thursday’s news.
‘I spoke to him over the weekend, but I also spoke to him this morning. We had a pretty lengthy conversation, around half an hour, and it was constructive,’ he said.
FACEBOOK’S CHANGES TO NEWS IN AUSTRALIA
Facebook has restricted publishers and social media users in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.
What does this mean for Australian news organisations?
Australian news organisations will be restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages
Admins will still be able to access Page insights and Creator Studio on their Facebook pages
Facebook said they will continue to provide access to other standard services, including data tools and CrowdTangle
What does this mean for international news organisations?
International news organisations can still post on Facebook but Australian users will not be able to see the content or share it
What does this mean for Australian Facebook users?
Australian Facebook users will not be able to view or share Australian or international news content
What does this mean for international Facebook users?
International Facebook users will not be able to view or share Australian news content on Facebook
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher is seen at a press conference on Thursday afternoon as the government responds to Facebook’s controversial move
‘I think there’s some differing interpretations as to how the code would work. And we talked through some of those elements.
‘And we’re happy to help clarify some of those issues with Facebook.’
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told Thursday’s press conference that he has been in contact with local community groups who have fallen victim to Facebook’s move.
Mr Fletcher said North Shore Mums, a Facebook group in his electorate, was blocked by the social media giant.
‘That is of significant concern. So, we are very clear that we think this is the wrong action by Facebook,’ he said.
Facebook has since restored the pages of some state and territory health authorities, emergency services and the Bureau of Meteorology after they were caught up in the news ban.
Queensland, SA and ACT Health and the WA Fire and Emergency Services were among the pages blocked.
Mr Frydenberg (pictured during Thursday’s press conference) said the government did not know the ban would come into force on Thursday. ‘We certainly weren’t given any notice by Facebook,’ he said
How have news outlets responded?
Daily Mail Australia:
‘So much for Facebook’s commitment to free speech.
‘We are astonished by this inflammatory move which is a blatant and clumsy attempt to try and intimidate the Australian government into watering down the provisions of the ACCC code.
‘We trust Canberra’s politicians stand firm and call Facebook’s bluff by passing the legislation unchanged and enforce it to the letter of the law.’
‘It is unfortunate Facebook have taken this position and it will indeed inhibit us from sharing our quality news and information with Australians. Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation to rapidly spread without balance. This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behaviour,’ a spokesperson said.
‘But today’s statement does not mean Facebook will not have to abide by the Federal Governments proposed code. Value has already been transferred and Facebook has benefited from our content for many years. We should be able to access their monopoly platform and have the right to monetise our content as a result.
‘We have been negotiating with Facebook in good faith and we remain willing to do a deal with them that provides a mutually beneficial outcome and ensures quality information is available to all Australians on their platform.’
‘ABC News is Australia’s number one digital news service and the nation’s most trusted news outlet,’ said Managing Director David Anderson.
‘The ABC’s digital news services will always remain free and accessible to all Australians on the ABC website and via the ABC News app, providing independent and reliable news, information and analysis.
‘Despite key issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic having ongoing effects on all Australians, Facebook has today removed important and credible news and information sources from its Australian platform.
‘We will continue our discussions with Facebook today following this development.’
The pages, which provide crucial health, emergency and weather information and alerts, were restored about noon on Thursday.
The Tasmanian and ACT government pages are still down.
Other pages that were blocked include arts organisations, community groups and registered charities.
Facebook said it didn’t intend its ban on sharing news content to impact government pages.
As Facebook restricts the sharing of news, Google is striking deals in Australia to pay for journalism.
News Corp has become the latest publisher to sign an agreement with Google.
The internet giant has already struck deals with Seven West Media and Nine Entertainment, and is in talks with public broadcasters ABC and SBS, as well as Guardian Australia.
The three-year Google deal with News Corp goes beyond the Australian market, extending to the publisher’s titles in America and the UK.
No other news publisher has reached a single deal with Google across multiple countries.
The media bargaining code is before the Senate after clearing the House of Representatives overnight.
Australian Facebook users can’t even share content they find interesting with friends and family, and those overseas can’t read or access any content from Down Under either (stock image)
Mr Frydenberg thanked Google during Thursday’s press conference for the ‘very constructive discussions’ the search-engine has been having with stakeholders.
The treasurer referred to the recent announcement from Google and News Corp.
‘It follows on from the announcement by Channel Seven and Google, and the reports of the successful negotiations between Channel Nine and Google,’ he said.
‘This digital code, this new media bargaining code, is very important microeconomic reform.’
Mr Fletcher said the government ‘certainly’ want Google and Facebook to stay in Australia – as long as they respect the nation’s rules.
‘But at the same time if you’re doing business in Australia you need to comply with the laws made by the elected Australian Parliament,’ he said.
Just like the treasurer, Mr Fletcher welcomed the agreements reached between Google and three Australian news media businesses.
‘And I certainly endorse what the Treasurer has said about this very unfortunate decision by Facebook, this very unfortunate action they’ve taken,’ he said.
As Facebook restricts the sharing of news, Google is striking deals in Australia to pay for journalism