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Explainer: Why has Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news?

Facebook wiped content from the pages of news outlets as tensions rise in Australia about the publication of content.

Jennifer McShane
18th Feb 2021
Explainer: Why has Facebook blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news?

News organisations in Australia have had their Facebook pages wiped in a retaliatory move by the social media giant against plans to make it pay publishers for hosting news content. Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

The reason Australians have been blocked from viewing and sharing news on the platform is due to proposed laws in the country to make digital giants – such as Google and Facebook – pay for journalism.

Both Google and Facebook have fought the law, saying it unfairly “penalises” their platforms, however, Google earlier reached a deal with the Australian broadcaster Nine Entertainment for $30m (€19m) a year to host its news content – despite threatening to remove their search engine from the country –  but Facebook refused, saying the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between the platform and publishers.

“News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed. Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences,” Facebook said in a statement.

Facebook vice president of global news partnerships, Campbell Brown, claimed it was an “incredibly difficult decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia,” adding that the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognise is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers.”

“Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content. Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook. From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organisations wouldn’t use Facebook if it didn’t help their bottom lines,” he said.

What does the move ultimately mean? 

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

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his government will not be intimidated by Facebook “unfriending” the country.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Mr Morrison said: “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said.

“I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues. We simply won’t be intimidated,” he added.

However, Facebook pointed out that they weren’t the only company who had issues with the legislation.

“Independent experts and analysts around the world have consistently outlined problems with the proposed legislation. While the government has made some changes, the proposed law fundamentally fails to understand how our services work,” Facebook added.

“Unfortunately, this means people and news organisations in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook. Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted.”