Facebook has threatened to ban all news content for users in Australia if a law proposed by the Australian government moves forward, according to a press release published by the social media company late Monday. Facebook’s ban on news would apply to both news organisations and individual users in Australia and is intended to be a threat over regulations that would potentially force Facebook to share some profits with news outlets.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” Will Easton, the managing director of Facebook for Australia and New Zealand, wrote in a statement that was published online.
“This is not our first choice — it is our last,” Easton continued. “But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
The Facebook exec went on to claim that news content “represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed” on the platform and that news is “not a significant source of revenue for us.”
Australia’s top consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has proposed that Australian news companies sit down with internet giants like Facebook and Google to negotiate some kind of profit-sharing agreement. The Australian government, headed by conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, argues that Facebook and Google are profiting from content created by Australian media companies and not properly sharing the wealth.
According to a study by the University of Canberra released in June, roughly 39 per cent of Australians get “general news” from Facebook and half of the entire country’s population gets news about covid-19 from the social media platform. Facebook has been infamously bad at patrolling misinformation on its network, and several Australians took to Twitter on Tuesday to say that maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if people couldn’t post news on the site anymore.
The profit-sharing proposal is still in the planning stages and has not been enforced, though it’s drawn considerable support from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which has an enormous presence in Australia. The country’s only national newspaper, The Australian, is owned by Murdoch. The infamous media mogul also owns far-right TV stations like Sky News Australia, which is more or less Fox News Down Under.
The ACC shot back at Facebook with its own statement on Tuesday, saying that it’s simply a matter of fairness for Big Tech to negotiate with companies that produce journalism.
“Facebook’s threat today to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived,” ACC Chair Rod Sims said in a statement published online.
“The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google.”
“Facebook already pays some media for news content,” Sims continued. “The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses.”