Australians wake up to Facebook news blackout

Facebook is under fire as Australians accuse the social media giant of censoring news along with emergency services in an apparent blackout. This morning, residents logged in, saying they weren’t able to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of any news outlets worldwide.

The move that has essentially blocked Australia from being in the loop, comes after its government proposed laws that would make social media outlets pay for news content to be shared onto their sites. But Facebook’s retaliation efforts also created chaos as fire, meteorological and health services nationwide began to experience problems with their pages, even during several public emergencies.

In response to the angry backlash, a Facebook spokesperson said official government pages shouldn’t have been affected by the announcement this morning, and that the company would fix any pages that were inadvertently impacted.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson, however, is concerned as she says the block has also impacted Indigenous community pages, charities, and even Facebook’s own page. Pearson described the move as an “alarming and dangerous turn of events.”

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“Facebook is severely restricting and censoring the flow of information to Australians. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”

Despite being unable to access news organisations’ pages on the site, misinformation pages and fact-checking pages are still within reach, prompting many to call into question the role that journalists play in news gathering. The big question that critics have is how media organisations that employ qualified journalists, who go through a fact-checking process, are being blocked from the site, yet misinformation campaign pages and well-known conspiracy pages are allowed to be displayed.

Facebook’s manager for Australia and New Zealand, William Easton, says the proposed law, however, “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”

Easton says Facebook could either try to comply with a law that ignores the reality of such a relationship, or stop allowing news content on its services in Australia.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

Easton says the numbers don’t add up and favor news publishers heavily as they reap hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue by having Facebook disseminate their stories. He points to the proposed law as penalizing the social media platform for content that it “did not take or ask for.”

On the contrary, Australia’s watchdog for competition has revealed consistently that the breakdown for every $100 spent on online advertising deprives media outlets of revenue that is needed to support journalism. Google captures $53 of the $100, while Facebook captures $28. The rest is divided amongst others.

Australia isn’t alone in the push to even out the playing field, as other countries are mulling such moves to make tech platforms share revenues with news media outlets. But the choice to block the news before a decision is made by the courts could set a dangerous precedent.

The legislation put forth by the Australian government has already passed the House of Representatives in recent days, and is now on its way to being considered by the Senate.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

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