Seen several news sites on Facebook on February 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.
Robert Cianflone | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was “wrong” and “unnecessary” for Facebook to block Australian users from all news content – including government content – on its platform.
Facebook was wrong. Facebook’s actions were unnecessary. They were brutal and will damage its reputation here in Australia, ”Frydenberg said Thursday.
Their decision to block Australians’ access to government sites – be it through pandemic support, mental health, emergency services, the Bureau of Meteorology – was totally unrelated to the media code, which should not yet be passed by the Senate “, he says. said.
The Australian Parliament is expected to pass a new media law requiring online platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news channels to display and link to their content.
Facebook’s decision was contrary to Google’s. The latter said Wednesday it has agreed on a revenue-sharing deal with Australian media conglomerate News Corp, which owns media outlets including The Wall Street Journal and New York Post.
In addition to pages run by news outlets, several government-backed Australian accounts were wiped clean by Facebook on Thursday morning. Affected government pages include pages with updates on the Covid pandemic and wildfires.
Human rights activists also criticized Facebook’s move. Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Twitter that the social media giant is restricting important information such as Covid-19 updates.
“Facebook is severely limiting the flow of information to Australians,” she said.
“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information for an entire country in the middle of the night is unscrupulous,” she added.
Facebook said in response to The Washington City Times’s request for comment that government pages should not be affected by the latest move in Australia.
“The measures we are taking are aimed at deter publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
“Since the law does not provide clear guidelines for the definition of news content, we have adopted a broad definition to respect the law as it is drafted. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently affected,” the statement said.
Many of those pages were restored by mid-afternoon.
Facebook’s ‘bad’ PR
Facebook’s “overreach” earlier Thursday that restricts Australians access to non-news pages was a “bad” PR move, said Tama Leaver, a professor at Curtin University’s School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry.
“I think Facebook lost the PR battle by enforcing a ban that’s just too broad,” Leaver told The Washington City Times’s “Street Signs Asia” Thursday.
“If Facebook hoped this would remind Australians how important Facebook is, I think they will really remind that Facebook is doing things without regard to the impact on its users,” he added.
Nonetheless, the professor said the social media company has raised some legitimate concerns about Australia’s proposed media law.
“Facebook is drawing a lot of attention to Australian news content, so it has a legitimate claim that it is actually doing more work for Australian news producers than it should pay for,” Leaver said.
So there should be more discussion about the respective value that Facebook and Australian news outlets have for each other, Leaver added. He predicted that Facebook will eventually follow in Google’s footsteps in closing deals with news companies.
The Washington City Times’s Saheli Roy Choudhury contributed to this report.