Following Facebook Inc.’s decision to block users from viewing or sharing Australian news, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he won’t back down from implementing the new media law, a decision that has drawn criticism as well as plaudits.
This morning Australians woke up to find that they were unable to read Facebook pages of media, whether they were local or international. Moreover, anyone outside Australia could not see Australian media on their news feeds. Unlike Google LLC, Facebook decided it wouldn’t make a deal with Australia regarding paying for news, instead preferring, in Morrison’s words, to “unfriend Australia.”
There have been varying opinions about the matter, with some pundits blasting Facebook for bullying and causing the downfall of journalism. Inside Australia, the media expressed its disappointment at Facebook, while the public is the biggest loser.
“Nobody benefits from this decision as Facebook will now be a platform for misinformation to rapidly spread without balance,” said a spokesperson for Nine Entertainment, a large media outfit in Australia. “This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behavior.”
Facebook Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Will Easton countered by saying that the legislation “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.” He said Australia had put Facebook in between a rock and hard place, and it was with a “heavy heart” that the company made its decision.
Mike Masnick, founder and editor of Techdirt and a close observer of media issues, didn’t mince his words about the issue, stating that the criticism that has been aimed at Facebook is “bizarre,” and not surprisingly backed by the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
“The government saying that you can’t link to a news site unless you pay a tax should be seen as inherently problematic for a long list of reasons,” said Masnik, saying that media companies should not pay for traffic. “This is like saying that not only should NBC have to run an advertisement for Techdirt, but it should have to pay me for it,” he added. “If that seems totally nonsensical, that’s because it is. The link tax makes no sense.”
Australia’s dumb and bad ‘bargaining code’ with platforms is coming soon to a country near you. So we should probably talk about how dumb and bad it is https://t.co/olRb4bGH4r pic.twitter.com/payvazHzkC
— Casey Newton (@CaseyNewton) February 17, 2021
Casey Newton, writing for The Verge, agreed, saying the move will “not save journalism” and calling Australia’s decision “rotten.” “Removing high-quality news sources from Facebook will likely mean a boost for lower-quality blog posts, memes, and other junk,” he wrote, although he added that he thought the news outage would not last long.
“Google’s capitulation means that Australian crony capitalism is now likely to be exported worldwide,” he said. “Legacy media outlets will become richer — and also more dependent on the tech giants that they excoriate daily for having too much power over them. All the while, the media industry will continue to consolidate, and it will be harder to get or keep a job in journalism.”
Image: Christoph Scholz/Flickr
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