Facebook blocks news from Australian users
Facebook has made the unprecedented move of banning Australian news publishers (and users) from sharing or viewing any news articles on the platform.
It’s a response to the Federal Government’s bargaining code which has passed through the House of Representatives, and which will require social media companies to pay news organisations if their content appears on the platform.
For many Australian users, this means their main source of daily news – their Facebook newsfeed – will look very different, with only content appearing from friends and family, and non-news organisations.
It’s a bold, even aggressive action, on Facebook’s part. If you look at a news organisation’s Facebook page now, it still exists, but is completely void of content.
Like most blunt and broad actions of this scale there are some potentially devastating consequences.
As part of the blanket move, many not for profits and crucially, government agencies have had their posts removed. At the time of writing, the specific criteria Facebook is using to decide which content is blocked and which isn’t is not fully understood. Cannings Purple’s Facebook page for example is still active, but many similar pages are empty.
— James Findlay (@james_findlay) February 17, 2021
Included in the list of entities which appear to have had their content removed is the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), an information lifeline, but surely not a traditional news service. Australian Unions also report losing the ability to share information about workers’ rights on the platform. Making the move during a pandemic, especially considering the role Facebook has played in communicating rapid response messages, also demonstrates how concerned Facebook is about the new regulations.
If all the genuine, fact-checked news from reputable news sources is now no longer in the newsfeed, it’s fair to assume the proportion of non-fact-checked, “fake”, and opinion-led content has just increased dramatically. This should be of major concern for all – access to free and fair news is often held up as a key cornerstone of any democracy.
This exercise of power is often one of the criticisms of Facebook, but it’s possible most Australians may not even notice – especially as the news itself is now unlikely to make it into their news feeds! Will it signal a change in how people access their news? It would benefit the news publishers if we all started going directly to them via their branded apps or web pages, but the Facebook habit is so engrained in its users that its more likely we’ll just keep scrolling instead, and get less exposure to news. And that has to be a bad thing for news publishers, and Australia.
So, what’s next? It’s clear there will be further engagement between Facebook and the Government, but it’s by no means certain how this will unfold. Google has reached an agreement to use news content, but Facebook says it’s model is different to Google’s. Whereas Google uses content it actively scrapes the web for, and perhaps should be paying for, Facebook doesn’t control who posts what on its channels. Its position is that it should not be paying for content it hasn’t chosen to make available.
Either way, there’s a period of huge uncertainty ahead, and the world’s eyes will be on Australia which is seen as something of a test case for curbing Big Tech’s far-reaching powers.
Glenn Langridge is Cannings Purple’s Head of Digital, involved in all aspects of digital strategy and campaigning. Glenn helps clients achieve their goals through smart use of social media, digital tools, and the latest platforms.
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