/ 19 February 2021

Facebook unfriends Australia

Seventeen million Aussie Facebook users were yesterday blocked from sharing or posting news content to the mega social media platform. The Facebook pages of the country’s big and small news outlets were blanked yesterday morning, as were those of key government agencies, including health departments and the Bureau of Meteorology, charities, businesses, and mothers groups. Many pages that were ‘inadvertently’ scrubbed have been restored. Spared the broom was… The Squiz. Just don’t tell Facebook…

The epic dummy spit/power move (depending on your viewpoint…) comes as the Federal Parliament considers a plan to make Facebook and Google pay for Australian news content on their platforms. Announcing the proposed mandatory bargaining code in December, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said a balance needs to be restored for Aussie media businesses to survive. “For every $100 of online advertising spend, $53 goes to Google, $28 goes to Facebook, and $19 goes to other participants,” Frydenberg said at the time. In response, Google said its search engine would be pulled from Australia (but PM Scott Morrison said the company was feeling “more positive” and has gone on to ink content deals). And Facebook, which says the move “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between it and publishers, said it would stop Aussies from posting news links rather than pay up. And yesterday, it made good on its threat.

Both the Coalition and Labor Party support the code. PM Scott Morrison said Facebook’s moves were “as arrogant as they were disappointing” and the government won’t pull back on the legislation as he talks to world leaders to recruit support. Labor’s Treasury spokesperson Jim Chalmers said it was the Coalition’s mess to clean up, but Facebook’s move would have consequences for people who want “credible news from credible sources.” So Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will keep talking to the man who giveth and taketh away – Mark Zuckerberg. As for Facebook, it’s an open question – will it be ok with being labelled a bad actor as it stands on the principle of refusing to pay for news? Or maybe the social media platform thinks it will get Aussies on side? Or perhaps it doesn’t mind either way, given Oz is not a big market, and the company says news isn’t big revenue? Watch this space…

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