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Facebook news ban in Australia provokes backlash

Facebook’s decision to block news sharing in Australia on Thursday restricted access to critical public information on government health and emergency services sites, prompting a backlash from the government and the public.

Facebook pages for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland Department of Health and Hobart Women’s Shelter were among the dozen to prohibit after Canberra ‘tried to force the social media company and Google to pay news publishers for the content.

Josh Frydenberg, the treasurer of Australia, said Facebook did not give notice of his intentions and added that the actions were bad, unnecessary and brutal. “But what today’s events confirm for all Australians is the immense market power of these digital media giants,” he said.

Frydenberg said he had talks with Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, on Thursday and over the weekend.

The Facebook ban was imposed hours after a separate Google move to strike a global deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, defusing a long-standing dispute between the media group and the search company.

The different approaches of technology groups mark a turning point for the media industry. Australian MPs this week began debating the bill, which could reset the terms of trade between publishers and tech companies around the world. Canada, the EU and the UK said they were considering similar measures.

Health experts have criticized Facebook’s decision to block access to vital information during the Covid-19 pandemic, while government lawmakers have accused the company of corporate “bullying”.

“The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Julie Leask, professor at the University of Sydney’s School of Nursing.

“Three days before the deployment of our Covid-19 vaccine, Australians who use Facebook as their primary source of information can no longer access credible information on vaccination from news organizations and certain government organization pages. and public health. ”

Sally McManus, secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, said her organization was mistakenly blocked by the platform. “Australian workers now cannot find out their rights at work through Facebook. It is shameful and must be overturned immediately ”, she said. wrote on Twitter.

Facebook said it would “prevent editors and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.” The move includes blocking all Australian news outlets from publishing on the site worldwide.

The tech company said it made the decision “with a heavy heart” but that the new law “would penalize Facebook for content it hasn’t taken or requested.”

Facebook said government pages should not be affected by the ban and will cancel any inadvertently closed pages.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we adopted a broad definition in order to comply with the law as drafted,” the company said.

The controversy marks a disturbing start to what will be a big test of Facebook’s ability to filter content from specific users or organizations at a time when its moderation processes are already under control and under pressure from the world’s antitrust regulators. whole world.

The move also raised fears of a rise in disinformation on the platform in Australia.

“We will argue that the position taken by Facebook means that the information people see on Facebook does not come from organizations with fact-checking capability with paid journalists, with editorial policies, etc.” said Paul Fletcher, Australian Minister of Communications.

Andrew Bragg, an Australian government lawmaker who chaired a parliamentary committee on Big Tech, said: “Today’s announcement, I think, will leave Facebook as a platform where there is no real news but a lot of fake news. “

Nine, one of Australia’s largest media groups which has urged the government to ignore pressure from tech companies, said Facebook’s action was proof of its monopoly position and unreasonable behavior.

“No one is taking advantage of this move because Facebook will now be a platform for disinformation to spread rapidly without equilibrium,” the company said.

The Financial Times has news licensing agreements with Google and Facebook.

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