Facebook is keeping its promise to cut off news from its services in Australia. Amidst the ongoing dispute between the social media giant, Google and the Australian government over newly introduced legislation that will mandate payment to news outlets for their contents, the American companies have threatened to withdraw their services from Australia as they failed to reach a consensus with the government.
While Google seeks a way-out through deals with media outlets, Facebook chose to cut ties with anything news in Australia.
“In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a statement from the social media platform said.
The new legislation means Facebook and Google will have to bargain with newsrooms either individually or collectively – and to enter arbitration if the parties can’t reach an agreement within three months, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Both Google and Facebook have opposed the code, saying it will have negative impact on how their services are served in Australia. Facebook’s vice president of public policy for Asia, Simon Milner said the company could ultimately block news content in Australia.
In a statement on Wednesday, Facebook said the “proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” and it has “left us facing a stark choice.” Attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. The Silicon Valley tech said it’s choosing the latter.
On the other hand, Google is choosing to preemptively use its News Show Room to negotiate deals with Australian publishers, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Australian media conglomerate Nine Entertainment and Seven West Media.
Facebook said the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favor of the publishers– which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume. For instance, last year, it generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.
“For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal. News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed,” Facebook said.
It means Facebook has much to lose than it has to gain if the proposed legislation, which has been approved by the lower chamber of parliament and would likely be approved by senate, goes into effect.
Just as Google is doing with News Show Room, Facebook has tried for the past three years to launch Facebook News in Australia to calm the situation, but the Australian lawmakers were not ready to yield.
Facebook said the decision means that Australian publishers are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook pages. And for international publishers, they can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.
The decision also restricts Australian community from viewing or sharing Australian and international news pages, while it prohibits international community from viewing and sharing Australian news content from Australian news pages.
As Australians woke up to the reality of this decision – disappeared news feeds and restricted publishers’ pages, anger and condemnation have erupted.
News publishers, rights activists and even politicians said the decision is disappointing as it is coming amidst conspiracy theories of COVID-19 pandemic when people are using authentic news welfare platforms to get reliable information. Report from Australia says official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on his Facebook page.
Much of the concern centers on the widespread misinformation Facebook’s action will cause. Australia, which has been battling COVID-19 misinformation, will begin a nationwide vaccination in three days, and needs the trusted news platforms to disseminate accurate information.
“Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform,” Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper tweeted.
A 2020 University of Canberra study found 21% of Australians use social media as their primary news source, that’s 3% increase from last year, while 39% of the population uses Facebook to receive news. The study also said 29% of Australians news video content is consumed on Facebook.
This means the effect of Facebook’s decision cuts across fields, especially those offering humanitarian services, and its impact will go beyond opening doors for fake news.