Unfriended the country: Facebook banned sharing news with Australia

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Canberra wanted to get money from the company for advertising

Facebook has banned Australian users and the media from sharing international and local news on social media. The company made such a tough decision not to share its revenues with the Australian media. There are tens of millions of dollars at stake. The situation is closely watched in the West, because what is happening in Australia may become a precedent for other countries . About the conflict between the largest social network and Canberra - in the material "Izvestia".

National level ban

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“Today's Facebook action to remove Australia from friends, as well as shutting down essential health and emergency information services, was arrogant and also very disappointing. I am in constant contact with the leaders of other countries on these issues, ”Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to the news about the actions of the global digital platform, which has banned the sharing of news within Australia.

According to him, the company's policy only "confirms the fears of an increasing number of countries about the behavior of technology giants." “They believe they are above the government and are not obliged to obey the rules. Perhaps they are changing the world, but this does not mean at all that they control it, ”the head of the Australian government was indignant.

Australia is not afraid of intimidation from the tech giant seeking to pressure parliament "when it votes on an important Code of Conduct for Media Market Players," Morrison said. This bill aims to regulate commercial relationships between media and digital platforms. Local authorities want to force the latter to pay the Australian media for publishing links to them.

The development of the situation is being closely watched in the UK, Canada and India, as well as in a number of other countries, since what is happening in Australia may set a precedent for other countries.

On February 19, Australia's top treasurer, Josh Freidenberg, spoke on the phone with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with another conversation scheduled for the weekend. "More than one or two commercial deals are at stake (...) It's about Australian sovereignty," the official wrote . He also noted that the country called on other states to support it in an effort to regulate the behavior of digital giants.

Julian Knight, the head of the British parliamentary committee for overseeing the media industry, believes that this is a message not only to Canberra, but also to other world capitals. “What they did in Australia is a hooligan trick. It will only further inflame the desire of legislators around the world to take further measures, ”the politician is sure .

Henry Fore Walker, chairman of the British Association News Media, agrees: "Banning news during a pandemic is a classic example of the behavior of a monopolist - a school bully who, in an effort to protect his dominant position, does not care at all about the citizens and consumers he serves."

Dietmar Wolff, head of the German news publishers association BDZV, also said: "The time has come for governments around the world to restrict the bargaining power of gatekeepers."

A harsh choice

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The fact is that on February 18, Australian users, many of whom are used to learning about what is happening in the country and in the world from Facebook, were cut off from the news. The company stopped publishing newsletters. Local online publications were also unable to post news content - their pages were empty, and users also had no opportunity to share publications from different information sites.

“It was impossible to choose a worse time for this ban. Three days before the start of mass COVID-19 vaccinations, Australians using Facebook as their main news source can no longer access reliable information about vaccinations, ” responded health expert Professor Julie Lisk.

As Reuters reports, citing a 2020 study by the University of Canberra, 21% of Australians use social media as their primary news source, and 39% of the population receives news directly from Facebook. “ By blocking news from professional journalists, Facebook has exponentially increased the possibility of spreading misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories on its platform ,” commented Lisa Davis, editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.



Photo: REUTERS / AAP Image / Erik Anderson

Facebook explains that they decided to take this step because of an amendment to Australia's competition and consumer protection law, according to which social networks and other digital platforms must enter into agreements with the media and pay them for hosting their content. The cost was not specified in the document, it was only noted that it would be a fair price.

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Last August, Facebook officials said that if the amendments were passed, publishers and regular Australian users would be barred from posting local and foreign news to Facebook and Instagram. As a result, Instagram has not yet touched it, and Facebook has banned the dissemination of news the very next day after the bill passed the third reading in parliament.

Facebook said in a statement that the Australian government's proposed bill "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content." “This presented us with a tough choice: to try to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or to stop using news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we chose the latter, ”the message says .

According to William Easton, managing director of Facebook for Australia and New Zealand, the media themselves are eager to post news to Facebook because it allows them to increase their subscribers and views, as well as advertising revenue. “For Facebook, profit from news is minimal. News accounts for less than 4% of the content that people see in their feed, ”added a company spokesman.

In the middle of the day, access to many of the government-backed Facebook pages was restored. However, the pages of local and international media remained inaccessible.

#DeleteFacebook

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Facebook's actions in Australia have irritated not only local officials, but ordinary users as well. We launched a campaign with the hashtag #DeleteFacebook (#DeleteFacebook). In addition, they urge to delete accounts in other services of the company - WhatsApp and Instagram. However, how many Australians decided to take this step is unknown.

“With one awkward trick, Facebook completely alienated its users across Australia - and made it clear why regulation was needed. This is necessary in order to curb the extraordinary bargaining power of this technology giant, ”wrote The Australian journalists on this matter .

Initially, Google fought against the Australian bill along with Facebook. Despite the threats, however, the company still made a compromise with local authorities and, on the eve of the third reading, entered into an agreement with major publishers in Australia to pay for content

FACEBOOK
Facebook

Dr. Suranga Seneviratne, a computer science, social media and cybersecurity expert at the School of Computer Science in Sydney, notes that Facebook's biggest asset is its user base. “The more users are involved in the platform, the more revenue it brings for the company itself. The primary means of maintaining user interaction is content sharing. In this case, Facebook decided that Australian news content and subsequent interactions with it did not generate much revenue and they could afford to abandon it, ” he notes .

"Manifestation of the information revolution"

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In general, this conflict has been brewing for a long time, says Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC).

- This is a common problem. Just as blogs began to compete with the work of journalists, social networks are beginning to "eat up" the usual media. In order for the media to deliver quality information, they need resources. And, accordingly, it is necessary to receive money either through advertising or through subscription, somehow support and preserve this business sector, - the political scientist notes.

The expert adds that social networks host information for free, thereby contributing to the deepening of the crisis of traditional media. In this case, there are no international norms and rules that would regulate the activities of social networks.

- As a result, the media are not protected from the fact that social networks can use their information resource. The conflict is inevitable here, - explained Kortuno

According to the expert, the Australian scandal will continue.

- Many in the media world sympathize with the position of Australia, believing that it is necessary to "squeeze" social networks, as they parasitize on the producers of quality information. They can get information at their own discretion, get a lot of money for it and not be responsible for the quality of the information posted on them. It is difficult to say how this conflict will be resolved. But this is definitely one of the manifestations of the information revolution that we are all going through now, ”RIAC General Director Andrei Kortunov said in an interview with Izvestia

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