Facebook has made international headlines again today after a controversial block on Australian-owned news sources.
The decision serves as the conclusion to a heated stand-off between the tech giant and federal government earlier this week.
What exactly happened, and why?
The Australian government and media organisations are demanding a higher rate of renumeration for advertising revenue generated through the site. It is similar to the tense negotiations surrounding Google which took place at the beginning of February.
The business model at present sees media organisations creating the content, while the tech giants (Google and Facebook) use it and acquire all advertising dollars for it.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg addressed the media this morning, suggesting he has been in ‘pleasant’ conversations with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the issue in attempts to negotiate a fairer playing field.
Frydenberg explained, “we want them to remain in Australia, but we also want them to pay for original content.”
However, Facebook has issued a statement claiming it was faced with a difficult decision. Either they attempt to comply with the law, or they ban news content on its services in Australia. They have chosen the latter, supposedly with a “heavy heart”.
The exact demands from the Australian government remain unclear.
So what does this mean?
The controversial block has affected news organisations like the ABC, non-profits and academic resources. It has even prohibited people from sharing Australian content while overseas.
The removal of government pages in particular has been of significant concern.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese took to Facebook this morning with the following status update:
“During a global pandemic, Australians can’t access state health departments on Facebook. On a day of flood and fire warnings in Queensland and WA, Australians can’t access the Bureau of Meteorology on Facebook.
The Morrison Government needs to fix this today.”
The Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA have also described Facebook as a ‘convenient source’ for warnings, safety information and news.
Facebook has responded to the alleged mixup over government-owned publications, urging that they should not have been impacted. It is unclear on what will happen now.
Small businesses have also been affected by the new regulations. Most of these business have relied on Facebook and Google to build brand awareness and followers. The recent removal and further blocking of posts has jeopardised their marketing campaigns. The exact metrics behind Facebook’s surveillance system have thus been brought into question.
In the meantime, the removal of Australian news from Facebook has resulted in information that does not come from organisations with fact-checking capabilities, paid journalists or editorial policies. This brings the credibility of the remaining sources into serious question, and has led to widespread concerns that the platform has exposed itself to the rapid and imbalanced spread of misinformation.
Only time will tell as to whether this situation lasts. It is comforting at least to know that Google has since changed its attitude on the matter.