Australians respond to Facebook’s news ban

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Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

David Mariuz | Pool | Getty Images

Facebook users in Australia are slowly coming to terms with the fact that they’ll no longer be able to get their daily news updates on the platform.

In a snap decision announced Wednesday, the social media giant said it was no longer going to allow publishers and Australian users to share and view news content on its site.

The move was a direct response to Australia’s proposed “new media code,” which would force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for the right to link to their content in news feeds or search results.

Google announced a major deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on Wednesday, but Facebook has taken the nuclear option, according to Peter Lewis, director of the Centre for Responsible Technology at the think tank Australia Institute.

How residents have responded

Facebook’s actions have divided opinion across the country, with some indifferent, and others angry. The #deletefacebook hashtag was trending on Twitter in Australia on Thursday.

When removing news pages from its platform, Facebook also inadvertently pulled pages for dozens of charities, state health organizations, small businesses, and a weather bureau.

Sydney resident Fred Azis-Laranjo told CNBC that he thinks Facebook’s decision will “massively backfire” and that Facebook will lose fans and customers in Australia as a result.

“It will inconvenience and annoy a huge group of the population who get their news from their Facebook news feed,” he said.

“Longer term, I think it is a good thing if it encourages more people to seek news more proactively, which will likely mean they’re exposed to a greater diversity of views and will also likely benefit established news organizations over niche players.”

Josh Gadsby, director of client relationship management at Visa in Sydney, told CNBC that he cares and he thinks most other people in Australia do as well. Facebook exacerbated the situation by banning non-news pages, according to Gadsby.

“Having worked for the Financial Times for several years, I saw the impact Facebook and Google were having on ad revenues for traditional publishers and I think it’s reasonable for them to be expected to pay something to use content from publishers,” he said.

“Having said that there are two sides to the story and there’s a fair bit of negative press over here about this being driven by the government because they’re in Murdoch’s pocket,” added Gadsby.

Gadsby believes that Facebook should have negotiated a deal with publishers. “It’ll be interesting to see what their next step is as personally, I think it’s unlikely the ban will be long-lasting,” he said.

The timing of the decision has angered some people.

Natasha Kinrade, who works in sales at corporate events firm Cliftons in Sydney, told CNBC that “it seems wrong that they are banning news and alerts especially during Covid times” and pointed out that Facebook is sometimes the best and quickest place to get accurate updates during an event like a terrorist attack.

John Henderson, a venture capitalist at AirTree Ventures in Sydney, told CNBC that he worries about the societal consequences of legitimate news sources disappearing from Facebook. “Surely it just creates space for lower integrity journalism and more fake news,” he said.

But Joe Daunt, a senior video editor at A Cloud Guru in Melbourne, told CNBC he hopes that people will see less fake news and misinformation if they start looking beyond Facebook for their news. “I think it’s a good move to be honest,” he said.

Jon Gore, who is located in Byron Bay, New South Wales, told CNBC that he doesn’t really care.

“I don’t go to Facebook for news or much else these days,” he said, adding that he feels like he has to do a lot of source checking when looking at news on Facebook.

“I’m not interested in sensationalist stories. I get frustrated by, and actively don’t click on links if they have leading clickbait titles.”

Gore said that many of the charities and small businesses will have likely struggled after their pages were removed by Facebook. “There’s a fair few places that use Facebook in place of a dedicated website,” he said.

Carly Gower, who works at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, told CNBC that the proposed media law doesn’t make sense to her. “Why should media companies be paid for content that they are voluntarily posting to Facebook?” she said. “The ban is a tough response but sort of justified for the big media companies who wanted the new laws.”

A Facebook spokesperson told CNBC that the company will reverse some of the bans.

“The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a company spokesperson said.

“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. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted.”

The political view

While some citizens aren’t fussed, Australia’s leaders are furious with Facebook.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Facebook’s actions were “as arrogant as they were disappointing” while Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook was wrong to move in the way it has.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary,” Frydenberg said at a media briefing on Thursday. “They were heavy handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia.”

“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,” added Frydenberg.

In a tweet early Friday morning local time, the Treasurer said he had a further conversation with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Data from research firm Statista shows that 62% of Australians get their news from TV, compared to 52% from social media.

Paul Colgan, a Sydney-based director at CT Group, a global political research and strategy firm, told CNBC that many Australians use Facebook to gather information.

However, he said that his firm’s research has identified a “broad recognition in the community that global tech companies have become very powerful, often to the detriment of Australian firms.” 

Colgan added: “The removal of sources of information including health pages and weather updates is certainly inconvenient, but finding substitutes just requires a few thumb movements, really, and is not difficult.”



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