Facebook has banned all Australian news from its website amid a turbulent stoush between American tech giants, Australian publishers and the Federal Government.
And the changes are already taking effect, with the Facebook pages of Australian news media publishers eerily empty of all posts.
Users are also unable to share links to Australian news articles. AIl users around the world will be unable to see Australian news content on the platform.
It comes amid troubled discussions between the Government, publishers and Facebook.
The Government has been pushing for Facebook and Google to pay publishers for content shared on the platform, arguing a critical pillar of the companies’ content is news. The code has passed the House of Representatives, but still needs to be approved by the Senate.
However, Facebook said the code fundamentally “fundamentally misunderstands” Facebook’s role in the broader media landscape.
Users around the country have flocked to Twitter to share their thoughts on Facebook’s major move.
“Blocking Australian news overnight, while allowing hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories run rampant. Facebook has just confirmed it really is just FakeBook,” Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.
Blocking Australian news overnight, while allowing hate speech and dangerous conspiracy theories run rampant.
Facebook has just confirmed it really is just FakeBook.
— 💚🌏 Sarah Hanson-Young (@sarahinthesen8) February 17, 2021
Freelance journalist and bowel cancer advocate Lucie Morris-Marr said she had been unable to share her own work about the cancer, describing it as “messed up”.
Out of interest I just tried to share a couple of my own recent articles on Facebook. But this new change is immediate. It won’t let me. So I can no longer share my own work with friends and family around the world. What a messed up situation all around for all.
— Lucie Morris-Marr (@luciemorrismarr) February 17, 2021
The fact that Facebook made the brutal change in the midst of a global pandemic also wasn’t lost on users.
Never forget: Facebook turned off access to evidence-based journalism for an entire country in the middle of a global pandemic. pic.twitter.com/QRiLcmZiHW
— Carole Cadwalladr (@carolecadwalla) February 17, 2021
Others noted that the speed with which Facebook deactivated Australian news accounts raises questions about its ability to remove misinformation.
Facebook’s ability to shut down so many pages literally overnight is proof it could have done a lot more a lot quicker to remove sources of misinformation and hate speech.
— Mollie Gorman (@_MollieGorman) February 17, 2021
Facebook has also taken down the Bureau of Meteorology page, the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the ACT government pages.
Facebook's news ban hammer having a lot of collateral damage. pic.twitter.com/mP4pfd3nL5
— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) February 17, 2021
The Australian Council of Trade Unions has also been caught up as collateral damage, with secretary Sally McManus lashing the tech giant as “disgraceful”.
So @Facebook has blocked access to our website. We are not a news organisation. Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately pic.twitter.com/588Qf1JbuD
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) February 17, 2021
Satirical websites including The Chaser and The Betoota Advocate have also been caught up in the fray.
A pending backflip?
Facebook said it made the controversial decision with a “heavy heart”.
However, in the last line of its statement, it indicated it would be open to flicking the switch back on.
“We hope that in the future the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers,” it wrote.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who has spearheaded the movement to force tech giants to pay Australian news publishers for use of their content on their platform, said discussions are ongoing.
“This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook. He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward,” he said on Twitter.
However, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook needs to tread carefully.
"At a time when there are already questions about the credibility of information on Facebook, that is something that they will obviously need to think about."
He also warned that Facebook’s decision will trigger greater proliferation of fake news and misinformation.
“We will be making the point that the position that Facebook has taken means that the information that people see on Facebook does not come from organisations with a fact-checking capability, paid journalists, with editorial policies," Fletcher said.
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