Undeterred by Facebook's blackout, Australia commits to content law

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

After strong criticism, Facebook eventually restored government pages related to the pandemic and other important information.

Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, in charge of crafting similar legislation to be unveiled in coming months, condemned Facebook's action and said it would not deter Ottawa.

He wrote: "Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing".

The battle between the Australian government and the tech giants over a law which would make them pay for news content has been rumbling on for a while.

"It's a massive step forward we have seen this week", Frydenberg said of the Google deals.

The company made the decision in response to a new government media code that would force Facebook and Google to agree direct fees with news producers or accept a price decided from an official arbitration.

The former chief executive also encouraged Australians to delete the Facebook app and blasted CEO Mark Zuckerberg's motivations. The Australian Finance Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said that this is "wrong" and "unnecessary".

"As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted". It said its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed, and it would restore pages that had been taken down by mistake.

Facebook maintains that news content makes up only four percent of people's feeds.

'People are looking at what Australia is doing, ' he said.

The actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and worldwide news content. "No-one has ever paid to link, regardless of their market power".

"This action - this bully boy action - that they've undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world", Julian Knight, chair of the British Parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Reuters.

This week's Tech Tent podcast asks whether Mark Zuckerberg overplayed his hand, making it more likely that other countries will follow Australia's lead. "So, we're all behind Australia in my view".

As well as negotiating payment, the proposal would require Facebook or Google to provide news organizations with advance warning of changes to algorithms.

Tama Leaver, a professor in the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Investigations at Curtin University in Australia, said Facebook's behavior of restricting Australians' access to non-news pages earlier on Thursday was "bad" public relations initiatives. "From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organizations wouldn't use Facebook if it didn't help their bottom lines".

Facebook shares traded down 2% on Thursday.

If there is a lesson in Facebook's recent Australian action for marketers and metrics report-beyond the immediate issue of funding news and journalism-it is that we need a vibrant, competitive advertising ecosystem and can not be reliant on a single partner. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google instead sealed preemptive deals with several media outlets in recent days.

Facebook's dramatic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they joined together for years to campaign against the laws.

Google contends the law requires it to "pay for clicks" by users and has attempted to head off the coming law.

Facebook drew particular condemnation for including in its blackout charity accounts and major state governments, including those providing advice on the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfire threats.

Facing a proposed law to compel internet companies to pay news organizations, Google has announced deals with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and Seven West Media. Of course, many Australians did not find this news interesting.

Media groups and Australia's government have also raised concerns that blocking verified news sources will allow misinformation to proliferate.



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