Facebook has blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news - here's why

By Rhona Shennan
Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:09 am
Updated Thursday, 18th February 2021, 10:10 am
Facebook has blocked Australian users from being able to share or view news content on its site (Photo: Shutterstock)
Facebook has blocked Australian users from being able to share or view news content on its site (Photo: Shutterstock)

Social media platform Facebook has blocked Australian users from being able to share or view news content on its site - causing concern over public access to key information.

The move comes in response to a proposed law which would require tech giants, like Facebook, to pay for news content on its platforms.

On Thursday (18 Feb), Australians woke to find that the Facebook pages of all local and global news sites had become unavailable.

Additionally, several government health and emergency pages had also been blocked, as well as pages for charities, politicians, sporting groups and a range of other non-news related organisations.

In a statement, Facebook said that these pages had been “inadvertently impacted”, and that they would be reinstated - although a deadline for when this would happen was not issued.

A Facebook spokesperson said that the company had “taken a broad definition” of the term “news content” in the law.

What does this mean for publishers and users?

On the Facebook announcement issued by William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, it explains what the move means for the likes of publishers and Australian users.

For Australian publishers, it means:

  • They are restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook pages
  • Admins will still be able to access other features from their Facebook page, including page insights and creator studio
  • Facebook will continue to provide access to all other standard Facebook services, including data tools and CrowdTangle

For international publishers, it means that they can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

For the Australian Facebook community, it means that they cannot view or share Australian or international news content on Facebook or content from Australia and international news pages.

For the international Facebook community, it means that they cannot view or share Australian news on Facebook or content from Australian news pages.

‘Facebook will restrict sharing and viewing news content’

Easton wrote on the company’s website on Wednesday: “In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

Easton ends the announcement by writing: “We hope that in the future the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers.”

‘Essential the public are not denied access to news’

Ian Murray, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “This is really unfortunate and it is always the public, not the media, that ultimately loses out when the delivery of news is blocked this way.

“The lesson to be learnt is that it is best to strive to reach amicable agreements.

“Here in the UK we have seen Facebook and Google recently reach agreements with UK publishers and news organisations to pay for content under licence.

“No doubt there will be further negotiations on how news providers such as publishers and broadcasters can be properly compensated for their work when it is reproduced on the digital platforms, but while this evolves it is essential the public are not denied access to news and information.”

‘We will not be intimidated by BigTech’

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Facebook to issue a response to the move from the social media site.

He said: “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing. I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues.

“These actions will only confirm the corners that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.

“We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code. Just as we weren’t intimidated when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms.

“I encourage Facebook to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith.”