Facebook blocks Australians from viewing and sharing news

17 February 2021, 21:14

Facebook logo
Australia Digital Platforms. Picture: PA

Australian users cannot share Australian or international news and international users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news.

Facebook has announced it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the 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 cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, the company said in a statement.

Australian users cannot share Australian or international news.

International users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news.

Mark Zuckerberg
Mr Frydenberg had weekend talks with Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, pictured, and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet, and its subsidiary Google (AP)

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

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

Mr Frydenberg said after weekend talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc and its subsidiary Google, he was convinced that the platforms “do want to enter into these commercial arrangements”.

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

Both platforms have condemned the proposed laws an unworkable. Google has also threatened to remove its search engine from the country.

But Google is striking pay deals with Australian news media companies under its own News Showcase model.

Google homepage
Google has struck a deal (Tim Goode/PA)

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

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has since announced a wide-ranging deal.

Rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact and Australian Broadcasting Corp is also in negotiations.

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

Mr Easton said the public would ask why the platforms were responding differently to the proposed law that 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,” Mr Easton said.

Google Search was inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content, he said.

But publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, because it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue, he added.

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”.

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

By Press Association