Canberra, Feb 19th, 2021: Social media giant Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news on its social media after the Australian govt move to make a law to pay for news.
A move by facebook criticized by a Australian minister who called it “an assault on a sovereign nation” and abuse of power.
Australia’s government condemned the decision, which also prevented some government communications, including messages about emergency services, as well as some commercial pages. The digital platforms fear that what’s happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent that larger countries will follow.
Facebook took drastic action because the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make Facebook and Google pay for Australian journalism, said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who added that he was given no warning before Facebook acted. The legislation needs to be passed by the Senate before it becomes law.
“Facebook actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg said.
Facebook said the proposed Australian law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it.”
Both Google and Facebook have threatened retaliation if Australia created the law, which the government contends will ensure media businesses receive fair payment for their journalism being linked on those platforms.
Facebook had threatened to block access to Australian news rather than pay for it under the proposed News Media Bargaining Code. Google had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable.
But Google’s threat has faded as it quickly stitches up licensing content deals with Australian media companies under its own News Showcase model.
Rupert Murdoch News Corp. announced a wide-ranging deal with Google on Wednesday. Major Australian media organization Seven West Media reached a deal earlier in the week. Their rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact, and state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. is in negotiations.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he had told Facebook that the government expected access to its pages to be restored.
“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services, who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Fletcher said.
Facebook said in a statement, “Any pages that are inadvertently impacted, we’ll look to reverse.”