Australians could be blocked from sharing news content on Facebook and Instagram, if a world-first attempt to govern how media companies deal with big tech becomes law.
Facebook has issued the threat in response to a proposed law that would see Facebook and Google forced to pay Australian media organisations for hosting their content.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” a statement from Facebook‘s Australia and New Zealand managing director Will Easton said.
“This is not our first choice – it is our last.
“But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic
and will hurt, not help, the long term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”
Mr Easton took aim at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which developed the draft code, accusing it of ignoring the role social media plays in promoting journalism.
He argued that in the first five months of 2020, users had clicked on Australian news items shared on the platform 2.3 billion times, which the company said generated $200 million in revenue for Australian media organisations.
“When crafting this new legislation, the commission overseeing the process ignored important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other,” Mr Easton said.
“News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.”
It is understood Facebook is still working through how any news ban would be implemented.
In response, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg accused Facebook of making “heavy handed threats” in an attempt to get its way.
“Australia makes laws that advance our national interest. We don’t respond to coercion or heavy handed threats wherever they come from,” he said.
“Our reforms to digital platforms are world leading and follow a ground-breaking 18-month inquiry by the ACCC.
“These reforms will help to create a more sustainable media landscape and see payment for original content.”
Facebook has also updated its terms of service, which come into effect next month.
Under the changes, Facebook would reserve the right to block information that could lead to “regulatory impacts” on it.
“We also can remove or restrict access to your content, services or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook.”
Code sparks ire of tech giants
Google has already launched a strong opposition campaign to the laws, pushing an open letter onto its users.
In the letter, Google argues its free services in Australia, such as its search engine and YouTube, could be under threat.
The media has long argued companies such as Facebook and Google benefit from the work of journalists, without paying for access to those stories or sharing any advertising revenue from their platforms.
The Government says its proposed laws are essential for creating a level playing field between local media and big internet companies.
Under the laws, Facebook and Google would be forced to negotiate payments with Australian media companies for their content.
If no agreement can be reached, they could be forced into an arrangement.
The code would also require Google and Facebook to give advance notice of any changes to their algorithms that could impact how news content was displayed.
It would also set a standard for how Google and Facebook shared data relating to how users accessed news content.
The ACCC had lashed out at claims made by Google it would have to start charging for its services, arguing that would only be as a result of the company’s own choices.
It also denied suggestions tech companies would be forced to hand over user data to media companies.
Public consultation on the code closed on Friday, with the Government now considering the feedback.