Facebook has banned Australian users of its platform from reading and sharing local and international news and stepped up its campaign against government plans to force tech giants to pay publishers for their news content.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Facebook said in a blog post announcing the move.

“We face a difficult decision: try to obey a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content through our services in Australia. It is with a heavy heart that we choose the latter. “

Australia is trying to get tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay for the news that goes rampant on their websites as the advertising revenue that once backed publishers dwindles. The law would force them to do business with media companies or to charge them fees.

Google has threatened to withdraw its search services from Australia, but has also made agreements with publishers to share its income.

Facebook insists that its relationship with the news industry is fundamentally different.

News publishers’ Facebook pages were blank on Thursday after the tech giant blocked news, contrary to a government plan designed to get news paid for
The public broadcaster’s site, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, went dark, and sites with important services, including health authorities, were also overtaken into the block

“Publishers are willingly choosing to post news on Facebook because it can sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase their advertising revenue,” the note said the platform generated 5.1 billion recommendations in 2020, which raised approximately 407 million Australian dollars (US $ 315) for the publishers.

The platform claimed that what it called “value exchange” was working for publishers.

Facebook’s sudden attempt to block news content sparked outrage as some government and emergency sites, including health officials, fire departments and the police, also went dark. The company’s own Facebook page was also affected.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who previously said he had a “constructive discussion” about the law with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive officer, condemned the platform’s move.

“Facebook was wrong,” he told reporters. “Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were persistent and they will damage their reputation here in Australia.”

Facebook watchers and media analysts accused the company, which had net profits of $ 29.2 billion in 2020, of bullying.

“Today’s actions by Facebook can best be understood as aggressive lobbying,” wrote American journalist Judd Legum on Twitter. “It shows the Australian government that it is ready to enforce the ban. It is difficult to reconcile this approach with the company’s alleged commitment to freedom of expression. “

Australians cannot access government health departments on Facebook during a global pandemic. On a day of flood and fire warnings in Queensland and WA, Australians cannot access the Bureau of Meteorology on Facebook.

The Morrison administration needs to fix this today.

– Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) February 17, 2021

1800RESPECT was blocked by Facebook this morning – denying FV and sexual assault survivors access to critical information. Irresponsible of FB. Cth must act quickly to correct. It’s more than just advertising revenue. It is literally about life.

– Gabrielle Williams MP (@GabbyWilliamsMP) February 17, 2021

Google has now signed deals with publishers in the UK, Germany, France, Brazil and Argentina for its Google News Showcase product, and on Wednesday signed a major global deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, the owner of the Wall Street Journal and two-thirds of the largest Australian city newspapers to develop a subscription platform and share advertising revenue. News Corp has also come under fire in Australia for its dominance in the news industry.

Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for digital journalism at Columbia Journalism School, said Facebook’s claim that it was a voluntary platform where news publishers willingly share their content “characterizes” the relationship.

“Most publishers feel an obligation to be on Facebook,” she wrote, referring to the center’s five years of non-platform research. “They don’t like the asymmetry of the relationship, they don’t like the requirement to contact an intermediary with no access to negligible data.”

(1/3) Wow, @Facebook, you have no conscience. To protect yourself in Australia, shut down ALL news sites including @rapplerdotcom. Still, allow government propaganda sites for journalists to risk their lives to fight to post! If you do not fix this, it will affect elex in 2022.

– Maria Ressa (@mariaressa) February 18, 2021

Do you remember when Facebook streamed the Christchurch massacre for 29 minutes?

– Max Walden (@maxwalden_), February 18, 2021

Facebook, which has long been criticized for misinformation thriving on its platforms, is now blocking the news media that allowed fact-checking for incorrect information.

“Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation that can spread quickly and unbalanced,” said a spokesman for Nine, an Australian television broadcaster. “This action again proves their monopoly position and their unreasonable behavior.”

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