Facebook is opposed to the federal government’s news media code, which will require it and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price. Google and Facebook have said the code unfairly penalises their platforms.The legislation, which the government says is aimed at “levelling the playing field” between the tech firms and struggling publishers, is expected to be passed by the Australian parliament within days, prompting Google to agree preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.
Overnight on Wednesday Facebook – which is used by 18 million Australians – prevented the sharing of news and wiped clean the pages of media companies, including the public broadcaster’s television, radio and non-news pages. Government pages – including on bushfires, mental health, emergency services and even meteorology – were also blocked, as were community, women’s health and domestic violence support pages.
Faure Walker said: “Facebook’s actions in Australia demonstrate precisely why we need jurisdictions across the globe, including the UK, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers.”Julian Knight, the chair of the British parliament’s digital, culture, media and sport committee, echoed Faure Walker when he told Reuters: “This action – this bullyboy action – that they’ve undertaken in Australia will I think ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world.
As the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) explains, these grantees will have access to data from public Facebook accounts to research the spread of disinformation and, more specifically, "to deepen our knowledge of how social media platforms were used in elections in Italy, Chile, and Germany and how their use may influence public opinion in Taiwan.".
“We represent people and I’m sorry but you can’t run bulldozer over that – and if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco.”Guardian Media Group, which owns the Guardian and the Observer, said Facebook’s action cleared the way for the spread of misinformation at a time when facts and clarity are sorely needed.
“We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy,” a spokesman said. “We have consistently argued that governments must play a role when it comes to establishing fair and transparent regulation of online platforms.”
Hours before Facebook’s move, Google and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp signed a multi-year partnership that will lead to the search engine paying for journalism from news sites around the world including the Wall Street Journal, the Times and the Australian.Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Thursday that Facebook’s show of strength would “confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of big tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them”.
Facebook’s senior executives have been considering selling user data for years, according to leaked internal Facebook documents accessed by NBC News. NBC News claims these contain information that could be used as leverage over companies it partnered with—data about friends, relationships and photos.
He wrote on Facebook: “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said the ban confirmed the “immense market power of these media digital giants. These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape. The Morrison government remains absolutely committed to legislating and implementing the code.”Tim O’Connor from Amnesty International Australia said it was “extremely concerning” that a private company was willing to control access to information on which people rely. “Facebook’s action starkly demonstrates why allowing one company to exert such dominant power over our information ecosystem threatens human rights,” O’Connor said.
And so simultaneously the company mounted a huge effort, led by CTO Mike Schroepfer, to create artificial intelligence systems that can, at scale, identify the content that Facebook wants to zap from its platform, including spam, nudes, hate speech, ISIS propaganda, and videos of children being put in washing machines.
Elaine Pearson, the Australia director at Human Rights Watch Australia, said it was a “dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”
Facebook blamed the Australian government’s definition of news content in the media bargaining code for the “inadvertent” blanket ban on government pages – an interpretation the government rejects.“Government pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement,” a Facebook spokesperson said. The company said it would reverse the ban on those pages, and by midday on Thursday some pages had been restored, including those run by the Bureau of Meteorology and the state health departments.
Facebook argues that the British media market is different, after it launched Facebook News through partnerships with publishers such as the Daily Mail group, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Telegraph.EU countries do not face the same situation as Australia because of new copyright rules that protect publishers in Europe, the bloc’s executive has said.Reuters contributed to this report