Facebook restricts users, publishers from sharing news content in Australia

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Facebook has announced it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on its platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism.

Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, the U.S.-based company said in a statement.

Australian users cannot share domestic or international news, while international users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said.

“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. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

The announcement came a day after Australia’s treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, described as “very promising” negotiations between Facebook and Google with Australian media companies.

He said Thursday in Sydney that talks will continue with Facebook, tweeting, “This morning, I had a constructive discussion with [CEO] Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook … we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward.”

Australia’s Parliament is debating proposed laws that would make the two platforms strike deals to pay for Australian news.

Google announced it has struck a deal with News Corp, which owns two-thirds of Australia’s major city newspapers, to develop a subscription platform and share advertising revenue. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

Google strikes deal with news organizations

Both platforms have condemned the proposed laws as unworkable. Google has threatened to remove its search engine from the country, even as it has secured deals with publishers in the U.K., Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina for its Google News Showcase product.

Seven West Media on Monday became the largest Australian news media business to strike a deal with Google to pay for journalism.

On Wednesday, Google reached a landmark global deal with 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.

News plays a larger part in Google’s business model than it does in Facebook’s.

Facebook’s Easton said the public would ask why the platforms were responding differently to the proposed law, which would create an arbitration panel to set a price for news in cases where the platforms and news businesses failed to agree.

“The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news,” Easton said.

The social media giant, which has long been criticized for allowing misinformation to flourish on its platforms, said Australian users will not be able to read or share news content on its sites, and Australian news publishers will be restricted from posting or sharing content on Facebook pages.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology think-tank, said Facebook’s decision “will make it a weaker social network.”

“Facebook actions mean the company’s failures in privacy, disinformation and data protection will require a bigger push for stronger government regulation,” Lewis said. “Without fact-based news to anchor it, Facebook will become little more than cute cats and conspiracy theories.”



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