Facebook is trying to exercise its monopoly position in Australia by preventing publishers from posting content on Facebook pages, said Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology at the Australia Institute think tank.
He explained that the social network giant has built itself up with the offer of free access, while downplaying the collection of user data and making money from that information.
“I think they are strengthening their monopoly position in this part of the digital world,” he said on The Washington City Times’s “Squawk Box Asia on Friday.”
“It is sparking a conversation in Australia about what alternatives might look like – there is no clear business alternative,” he said. “Redesigning public digital infrastructure is a long game, not something you can do overnight.”
Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Twitter on Friday that he had “further talks” with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and that they will be talking again this weekend. He said the government and Facebook will try to resolve ongoing issues.
Facebook said on Wednesday that Australian users will no longer be able to view or share news content. International users also cannot access Australian news content on the platform.
The decision came in response to a media negotiation code expected to be passed into law by the Australian Parliament, requiring Facebook and Google to pay publishers to display their news content on their products, such as the Facebook Newsfeed and Google Search.
The technology company’s decision was rejected by politicians and others alike, especially after key Facebook pages related to government, public health and civil society were swept away by the restrictions.
“Facebook has gone for the nuclear option, and I think it’s that whole idea of killing one to educate many,” Lewis said.
He described the current situation as a “car accident that is slowly building up”.
“Google took to the cliff a few weeks ago and threatened to shut down Search in Australia. Facebook jumped the cliff. Where this all lands, who knows?” Lewis said, adding that the world was watching this turn out.
While Facebook went for the nuclear option, as they previously threatened, Google struck prominent deals with major Australian media organizations.
Last year’s Australian competition watchdog highlighted the tremendous power both companies have in the advertising space.
In a September report, it said so Of every 100 Australian dollars ($ 77.26) spent online by advertisers in 2019, Google took 53 Australian dollars, Facebook 28 Australian dollars, and only 19 Australian dollars went to other websites and advertising engineers.
No major inconvenience to users
Facebook said news makes up less than 4% of the content people see on their news feed and that the business profit from news is minimal for the company.
According to Suranga Seneviratne, a lecturer at the School of Computer Science at the University of Sydney, Wednesday’s restrictions won’t have a major impact on most Australian Facebook users.
“If you think only about news, I think we as users might not feel that bad and as a platform, Facebook won’t see a significant drop in sales,” he told The Washington City Times on Thursday.
Some experts said Facebook accidentally blocking non-news sites in Australia could have serious repercussions – both in terms of reputation damage and commercial problems with Australian advertisers.
Others pointed out that by removing the main source of fact-verified information on the Facebook platform, at a time when misinformation is a serious problem, the social networking giant “is shooting itself in the foot”.