By Benjamin Millar
Australian Facebook users have been blocked from accessing news sites via their social media feeds in a dramatic escalation of the tech giant’s stand-off with the federal government over proposed new laws.
Facebook users have had local and international news links removed from their feeds and have been wiped from the Facebook pages of Australian news organisations including Star News Group.
The sudden shutdown, triggered on Thursday, has also wiped content from a range of other pages including health and emergency services, social services, charities and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Star News Group publisher Paul Thomas said the moves are “political posturing” and prove the ACCCs contention that Facebook is a monopoly with undue market power.
Mr Thomas said Australian news organisations producing balanced, factual news provides Facebook with relevance.
“Facebook has been riding off the back of news businesses for too long,” he said.
“Facebook’s claim that the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers is a complete fabrication of the truth.”
Mr Thomas said Facebook pays almost no local taxes, is not subject to the same defamation laws as news outlets and does not pay copyright fees.
“Not to mention the fact that they don’t employ anyone to cultivate content as news organisations do, and have been happy to piggy-back on ours for years for free.”
The company has blamed the move on proposed Australian laws forcing tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay for news content.
Google has announced multi-million dollar deals with a handful of Australian news organisations in local days, but Facebook has so far resisted brokering direct deals ahead of the proposed law changes.
In a post published on Facebook’s webpage on Thursday morning, Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director William Easton confirmed the company is restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content in response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” he said.
“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.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the ABC that Facebook needs to carefully consider what this means for its reputation and standing.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tweeted that he had a “constructive discussion” with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday morning.
“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.”