Facebook is blocking Australian users from sharing or viewing news content amid a dispute over a proposed law. Australia wants tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay for the content reposted from news outlets.
“A bombshell decision” is how Facebook’s move is being reported in Australia. The social media giant said it was banning Australians from sharing and reading news stories on its platform with a “heavy heart.” The government in Canberra, though, has said it won’t back down. Ministers have said the Facebook ban highlighted the “immense market power of these digital social giants.”
About 17 million Australians visit Facebook every month.
The media bargaining code legislation has already been passed by the lower house of the Australian parliament and is expected to receive final approval by the upper chamber, the Senate, next week. It would make Australia the first country to force big tech firms to pay for news content.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher is scathing about Facebook’s actions.
“Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing," Fletcher said. "They are effectively saying on our platform there will not be any information from organizations which employ paid journalists. They are effectively saying any information that is available on our site does not come from these reliable sources.”
The progress of Australia’s social media laws is reportedly being closely followed in other parts of the world, including Canada and the European Union.
Facebook said the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers. Large technology companies, including Google, have argued that by using stories from other publishers they generate more internet traffic and revenue for the websites run by traditional media outlets. They have complained that as their advertising revenues have collapsed, social media platforms have benefited from their quality journalism without paying for it.
In contrast to Facebook, Google has this week signed multi-million dollar deals with three major Australian broadcasters and publishers.