Facebook blocks News sharing to escape Australian publisher rules

Facebook will block users and publishers from sharing news content in Australia, a stark reaction to the proposed new Media Bargaining code in the country. The decision means that Facebook users in the country will not be able to see local or international content through the social network.

Australian publishers will be restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages. International publishers will still be able to post their content, but those links and articles will not show up for Australian users, and nor will they be able to share them to their own pages and friends.

Generally, Australian users will not see any either local or international content on their pages. Those outside of the country will not see Australian news content on Facebook, or indeed any content from Australian news Pages. Other Facebook services, Groups, FB Messenger, and the rest of the Facebook products will continue to operate as normal.

The decision comes as lawmakers in Australia prepare new regulation that aims to manage the "bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook." Its stated aim is to make sure that those big tech firms don't unfairly benefit from content generated by Australian news media businesses. Initially, it applies to Facebook NewsFeed and Google Search, though the code's authors have left flexibility in there for other platforms to be added in future.

Facebook – and indeed Google – have long argued, however, that the new law's premise is flawed. The code "misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organizations the government is trying to protect," William Easton, Managing Director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand, insisted back in August 2020. Rather than level the playing field, he countered, the proposal "lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits."

Now, with lawmakers resolute, Facebook is doing just what it threatened to do last year, and yanking news altogether. "For Facebook, the business gain from news is minimal," Easton said today. "News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed."

Interestingly, despite having claimed on multiple occasions that it's impossible for the company to efficiently remove "fake news" and prevent it from being shared, particularly during the US Presidential elections, Facebook insists now that it can use "a combination of technologies to restrict news content" so that it doesn't have to pay publishers for that. It will also have a system to review content removed which users argue is not covered by the new policy.