Facebook makes good on its threat to ban news in Australia

Meanwhile, Google strikes more multimillion-dollar content deals with local news conglomerates.

In response to Australia's News Media Bargaining Code becoming law, Facebook has pulled the news sharing function from its platform down under.

The move, which makes good on a threat made months ago, will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content. 

The bargaining code, according to the government, is necessary for addressing the fundamental bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms.

But to Facebook, it ignores the realities of its relationship with publishers and news creators.

"The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content," Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton wrote in a blog post.

"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."

See also: NZ Privacy Commissioner labels Facebook as 'morally bankrupt pathological liars'

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg took to Twitter Thursday morning to say he'd been speaking with CEO Mark Zuckerberg, again, and that talks were "constructive".

"He raised a few remaining issues with the government's news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward," the Treasurer wrote.

Facebook's ban has resulted in a few pages that aren't actually news having their content blocked. For example, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, which is a government entity responsible for sharing weather information.

A Facebook spokesperson told ZDNet that government pages should not be impacted by the announcement. 

"The actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content," they said. "As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted." 

The legislation states: Core news content means content that reports, investigates, or explains: a) issues or events that are relevant in engaging Australians in public debate and in informing democratic decision-making; or b) current issues or events of public significance for Australians at a local, regional or national level.

While Google also threatened to pull news from Australia, it has this week made a handful of deals with publishers, with Rupert Murdoch unsurprisingly being the latest beneficiary of the federal government's actions. One deal struck earlier this week will see Google pay AU$30 million a year to display links to news articles from another news conglomerate.

Currently, there is no clause written into the code dictating that publishers must pass the money on to the actual creators of the content. In order to protect further layoffs plaguing the journalism sector, the Australian Greens have put forward an amendment [PDF] to the code that seeks to monitor public interest journalism in Australia.

"We understand many will ask why the platforms may respond differently. The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news," Easton said.

"Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue."

Updated Thursday 18 February 2021 at 11.00am AEDT: Added comments from Facebook spokesperson.

HERE'S MORE ON THE CODE