Last month Facebook banned Australians from seeing and sharing news on the app. This move from the tech giant came only days after Australia’s news media code reached parliament. This legislation was mainly aimed at Google and Facebook, which – if implemented – would have required the two tech giants to discuss payments with news outlets before they are able to provide news contents on their platforms. The Australian government has come up with this plan in order to support the news industry, which has seen a drop in revenue since the advent of the digital age. Facebook, however, pointed out that its platforms benefits news companies more that they benefit Facebook, since a lot of people access news websites through Facebook.
The ones most impacted by this move are Australian news organisations which can no longer use Facebook in order to post their content, but also people living in Australia, who are not able to access news through Facebook, nor share links through the platform. Whilst Facebook’s decision to ban the news on its platform affects only Australia, the consequences are international. Australia’s case might set a precedent when it comes to the relationship Facebook has with other countries that have long wanted to regulate social media. Some argue that this is also why Facebook has taken such a harsh stance against the Australian government, to deter other states from pursuing similar policies.
Facebook faux pas
Nevertheless, Facebook has made a faux pas by not notifying the governments and publishers before stopping the display of their content on the platform. Moreover, in its attempt to make the content of news companies no longer available on the platform, Facebook’s actions also affected other pages, including domestic violence charities, Australia’s weather agency and Facebook’s own page. This was blamed on the unclear definition of ‘news’ provided by the draft news media code coined by the government. This also meant that other more crucial services related to health and information about COVID were also no longer available on Facebook, although these issues have since been rectified.
What are the repercussions?
There are already speculations about what this move might mean in terms of the need to combat misinformation online. The fear is that, if news is no longer available on Facebook, people will either stop reading them altogether, or that they will be much more likely to encounter misinformation on the platform, which will also become more difficult to fact-check. There has already been evidence to suggest that the number of unverified sources have become more prominent on Facebook in Australia and that fact-checking websites are no longer able to reach the same amount of people, especially those who are most susceptible to misinformation.
Facebook has since reversed its decision, and the government made some ammendments to the legislation, following intense negotiations. Now tech giants and news organisations will negotiate a fair price with each other, with an independent arbritrater if these negotiations fail. As part of this compromise both companies will also invest several million in local digital news. It is expected that other countries will implement similar measures in the future.
Written by Diana Jalea