CANBERRA – Facebook will block news content from being read and shared in its news feed in Australia, drawing a line in the sand against a proposed Australian law that would require it and Alphabet’s Google to pay the country’s news publishers for content.

The move, announced in a blog post on Wednesday (Feb 17), represents a divergence in responses among the big tech giants under attack by news publishers, which have blamed the companies for destroying their advertising business.

Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had a “constructive discussion” with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday, adding the talks with the company on the proposed media payment law would continue. 

“(Zuckerberg) raised a few remaining issues with the government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward,” Frydenberg said in a tweet. 

The Australian federal government has said it plans to put the legislation, which effectively force Google and Facebook to strike deals with media companies or have fees set for them, to a vote in the coming weeks.

Google has also threatened to shut down its search engine in the country to avoid “unworkable” content laws even as it has secured deals with publishers in Britain, Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina for its Google News Showcase product.

On Wednesday, Google reached a landmark global deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, owner of the Wall Street Journal and two-thirds of Australia’s major city newspapers, to develop a subscription platform and share advertising revenue.

Facebook said the proposed legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers, arguing that news outlets voluntarily post their article links on Facebook, which helped Australian publishers earn about AU$407 million (S$418 million) in 2020 through referrals.

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Emily Bell, director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, tweeted on Wednesday that the relationship was not as voluntary as it seems, and most publishers feel obligated to be on Facebook due to its dominance.

Facebook, which has long been criticised for allowing misinformation to flourish on its platforms, now finds itself in a peculiar position of also blocking the news media that has provided a fact check on false content.

“Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation to rapidly spread without balance,” said a spokesman for Nine, an Australian television network.

“This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behaviour.”

Starting on Wednesday, Australian users will not be able read or share news content on Facebook news feeds, and Australian news publishers will be restricted from posting or sharing content on Facebook pages.



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