Australia’s Prime Minister Scott 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.”
The Australian Government has slammed Facebook’s move of blocking the users in Australia from all news content on its platform. Facebook said on Wednesday (local time) that it will no longer allow publishers and users in Australia to share or view news content. This decision came as a response to the newly proposed media law in the country that requires online platforms like Google and Facebook to pay news outlet for displaying and linking to their content.
This decision by the social media giant did not go very well with the Australian government. “Facebook was wrong. Facebook’s actions were unnecessary. They were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” said Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said at a media briefing on Thursday.
This decision by Facebook means that Australian publishers will be restricted from posting news contents on their pages and Australian Facebook user will not be able to view news stories from international publishers either. “Today we made an incredibly difficult decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice president of global news partnerships, in a blog post.
We were prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia and significantly increase our investments with local publishers, however, we were only prepared to do this with the right rules in place,” Easton, the Facebook executive, said. “We will now prioritize investments to other countries.”
Facebook wiped clean several government-backed Australian accounts as well in addition to pages run by news outlets, on Thursday morning. Government pages affected include those providing updates on the Covid pandemic and bushfire threats. Morrison said he would encourage Facebook “to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith.”
The reaction in Australia was severe. “Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing,” Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the country’s public broadcaster. Human rights advocates also criticized Facebook’s move. Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the social media giant is restricting important information such as Covid-19 updates.
Facebook is severely restricting the flow of information to Australians. Not just news sites, but also information on government health, emergency services & police pages. This is an alarming & dangerous turn of events. Full quote from me below: pic.twitter.com/GsN5KVkPMP
— Elaine Pearson (@PearsonElaine) February 18, 2021
Google on the other hand agreed to follow the newly proposed legislation. Google said it had reached a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns The Wall Street Journal, to pay for its journalism on the same day Facebook announced to prevent people inside Australia from accessing news stories on its platform. News Corp is Australia’s biggest newspaper publisher and has been a driving force in lobbying for the new legislation. In a news release, News Corp called the deal a “historic” success that would lead to “significant” payments to the company.
“Google also appears to be more in tune with what the community wants and seems to take social responsibility somewhat more seriously than Facebook,” said Johan Lidberg, a media professor at Monash University in Melbourne.
Facebook in response to the huge backlash about its decision said that their actions are only focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news contents and that they will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted.