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Australia's Facebook: Tech giant faces increasing criticism over news ban

In the midst of a conflict with the government over a proposed rule, Facebook faces mounting backlash after it blocked news content in Australia.


The legislation would require tech companies on their sites to pay for news material.

Facebook says its partnership with publishers is "fundamentally misunderstands" by the legislation.

Yet it has been accused of intimidation by politicians, publishers, and rights groups in many countries, and raised questions over access to information.

Australian users are blocked from reading and sharing local and international news under Facebook's new regulations, while local newspapers are prevented from sharing or posting any links on their pages.

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Many government health and emergency pages were also blocked, but later Facebook said that this was a mistake and all of these pages are back online now.

Who criticized the move?

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the behavior of the social media platform to "unfriend Australia" was "as arrogant as they were disappointing" in a statement posted on Facebook.

"regular contact with the leaders of other nations" regular contact with other nations' leaders"intimidated" intimidated.

Mr. Morrison later raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, as he tried to obtain international support.

The step has also been criticized by other Australian officials. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said there was a "huge community impact" on the ban on news information. The social media site is visited every month by about 17 million Australians. It is the country's most powerful social forum for news.

Premier Mark McGowan of Western Australia accused Facebook of "behaving like a North Korean dictator"

Others proposed that disinformation and theories of conspiracy could fill a news void.

The Australian director of Human Rights Watch said Facebook was censoring the flow of information, calling it a "dangerous turn of events"

Amnesty International, a local activist with a rights organization, said it was "extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on"

"This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that 'if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility'."

With the company behind the Guardian newspaper saying it was "deeply concerned" global publishers also reacted.

The head of the BDZV News Publishers Association in Germany said it was "high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms"

Many Australian users are also angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

Outside Australia, the move faced criticism as well.

Facebook activity "bullying" was named by Julian Knight, the leader of the British parliamentary committee regulating the media industry.

"I think it's staggeringly irresponsible - at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine," he informed the BBC.

"It feels obviously very restrictive in what Facebook is going to allow people to do in the future, not only in Australia but around the world," Peter Firth told the BBC in Sydney.

Will fake news succeed?

The ban on news sites by Facebook on its Australian-facing website could well lead to greater prominence for unverified and untrusted information, helping to further spread disinformation.

First Draft, a website investigating the spread of false and misleading online posts, warned that the restrictions would "open up a vacuum that could be filled in part by mis and disinformation"

Facebook says that harmful misinformation will continue to be removed, users will be linked with reliable health advice and third-party fact-checkers will work.

One of the topics for which a great deal of unreliable information is shared online is that of Covid-19 vaccines.

So over the past 12 hours, we looked at search results for the word "vaccine" on Facebook pages primarily based in Australia and found prominent results for sites casting doubt on the pandemic of coronavirus.

This search also brings up reliable sources of information, and further analysis will be required over the next few days to see if longer-term data supports this anecdotal evidence.

So why is this being done by Facebook?

Australian authorities say they have drawn up legislation between the tech giants and struggling publishers to "level the playing field" on profits. A$81 goes to Google and Facebook, out of every A$100 (£56; $77) spent on digital advertising in Australian media these days.

" penalize", "for content, it didn't take or ask for. Says Facebook's Local Managing Director William Easton.

"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," Mr. Easton wrote in a Wednesday blog post.

Facebook said it helped Australian publishers earn around A$407 million through referrals last year, though "the platform gain from the news is minimal"

What's going to happen to the law?

Australia's conservative government, which passed the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, stands by the statute. It has strong cross-party backing and is expected to be approved by the Senate next week.

"We will legislate this code. We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content," Mr. Frydenberg said.

Google, the search engine, also opposes the Australian regulation, but it has now signed payment agreements with the country's major media outlets.


Source BBC News

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