Facebook’s Australia news ban

News has been banned from Facebook in Australia as the social media giant steps up its fight against the federal government’s proposed news media code. What does it all mean? Will we see news on Facebook again any time soon? Or will we be left with family photos and cat memes?

All Australian news organisations are no longer able to post content to their Facebook pages and people based in Australia are not be able to link to news articles from either Australian or international news sites.

On Thursday morning, however, the block also affected a number of non-news site pages, including some state health departments, the West Australian fire and emergency services page, the WA opposition leader’s page, several charities including support for victims of family violence pages, and union pages.

Facebook would be subject to the proposed code – and be required to pay publishers –if “news content” was posted on its website. It could be hit with penalties if, while it is subject to the code, it allowed news content from some publishers not part of the code while blocking others.

This means Facebook would not be able to just block Australian publishers who are participating in the code but would need to block all news content from Facebook. The social media behemoth is now attempting to show how that would work in practice.

Facebook’s botched Australia news ban hits health departments, charities and its own pages

That’s why it’s not just Australian publishers but all international news sites that are blocked in Australia.

But in enforcing the ban, Facebook has said it inadvertently over-blocked pages in trying to meet the definition of news.

“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,” a Facebook spokeswoman said.

Facebook believes it offers much more benefit to news companies than news companies offer to Facebook. The company’s head in Australia and New Zealand, Will Easton, said in a blog post announcing the block that news content accounts for less than 4% of content people see in their news feeds, while Facebook accounted for 5.1bn clicks to Australian news websites in 2020.

Facebook argues this value isn’t taken into account in how the negotiations are structured in the proposed news code.

Facebook has hit the nuclear button to try to show media companies how little news means to Facebook – and how much it might affect traffic to news sites if they were suddenly cut off.

It’s no secret that misinformation and disinformation is easily spread on Facebook. Nine Entertainment warned the absence of news from Facebook would worsen the situation.

A cursory check of some of the biggest rightwing misinformation websites on Thursday showed they could not post on Facebook. But much of the misinformation being spread on Facebook is memes or text that would not be caught by the ban.

People who want to correct such misinformation posted by relatives or friends would not be able to reply with a link to a news article.

Facebook has said its fact-checking partnership with newsagencies AAP and AFP will continue, and it will still provide an information hub on Covid-19.

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