Facebook’s Ban on News Still Hasn’t Defined What ‘News’ Is

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on October 23, 2019, in Washington, DC about how his company will handle false and misleading information by political leaders during the 2020 campaign. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)
Image: Getty

When Facebook threatened to ban Australian users from sharing news on its platforms, it was met with shock. But soon after, people began ask questions about how exactly it would work.

Yesterday, Facebook’s Managing Director, Australia & New Zealand, Will Easton announced the company would take this route if the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)’s draft media bargaining code goes ahead. The ACCC’s code would force Facebook, Google and Australian to negotiate with Australian news publishers over paying for news.

“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,” Easton wrote in a company blog post.

So what does the proposed ban include?

The proposed Facebook news ban includes all news — and not just the news publishers who would take part in the negotiation.

This means Australia’s public broadcasters (ABC, SBS), smaller publishers who don’t generate more than $150,000 a year in revenue, and international publications would all have their content blocked under the proposal.

That seems pretty straightforward in theory, right? News? No, thank you! But if you think about it a little longer, questions arise about what qualifies as ‘news’.

Is it links to external websites belonging to news companies? What about text and photo posts from news companies on their Facebook pages? Does this apply to citizen journalists? What if I want to announce ~~some personal news~~ about a new job on my private Facebook account? What if I get really ripped all of a sudden and want to post a thirst trap? Is my hot bod not, in a way, news?

ABC political reporter Stephanie Borys had similar questions and requested some more details from Facebook. She gave the example of the ABC’s Instagram page, questioning whether that would be banned under the proposal.

In response, Facebook shrugged. “Appears details haven’t been finalised. A spokesperson told the ABC “We’ll provide specific details soon on how we plan to remove news content on Facebook in Aust,” Borys tweeted.

What does Facebook say is news?

Gizmodo Australia understands that Facebook is using the definition of ‘news’ that’s in the ACCC’s draft code. We also understand the company considers the ACCC’s definition broad and uncertain.

So, is it? Here’s how the ACCC has defined as ‘core news content’, per the legislation’s explanatory materials:

Core news content is content produced by a journalist that records, investigates or explains:

• issues of public significance to Australians;
• issues relevant to engaging Australians in public debate and in informing democratic decision making; or
• content which relates to community and local events.

In essence, Facebook is using the threat to get the public to see the code from their perspective. Until — and if — Facebook decides to release more details, we’ll just have to imagine a Facebook without news.