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Facebook may stop sharing of news stories in Australia

Facebook says this is not their first choice – it is their last.

Australia is drafting a new regulation that Facebook says misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect. In response, Facebook has said Australian users will no longer be able to post news stories on its platforms in protest of proposed media bargaining legislation.

“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,” Managing Director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, Will Easton, said in a statement.

“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.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) proposed its code of conduct in late July and the legislation still needs to be approved by Australia’s parliament. Under the proposal, an arbitration panel would decide how much the technology companies must pay publishers if the two sides can’t agree.

Google has also raised alarms about Australia’s proposal. The measure “would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse” Google Search and YouTube, and “put the free services you use at risk in Australia,” Mel Silva, managing director of Google Australia and New Zealand, wrote in an open letter.

These laws would see Australian news organisations bargain with digital platforms like Facebook and Google to receive remuneration for news content shared on their platforms. It also seeks to give news companies greater access to the machinations of ranking algorithms and data the platforms harvest about news readers.

Australia’s new rules are part of a global push by government agencies to regulate the tech giants. In some countries, officials are concerned not only that Facebook and Google are capturing much of the advertising dollars that have sustained journalism, but also with the types of articles getting shared. The stories that tend to go viral on Facebook are those that stoke emotion and divisiveness, critics argue.

Responding to Facebook’s announcement, Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said:

“We don’t respond to coercion or heavy-handed threats wherever they come from.” Forcing digital platforms to pay for original content would help create “a more sustainable media landscape,”

The chairman of Australia’s competition regulator, Rod Sims, said Facebook’s threat was “ill-timed and misconceived.” The proposed legislation seeks to bring “fairness and transparency” to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news businesses, Sims said in a statement.

But Easton said the government’s solution was “counterproductive” to its goal of securing greater competition in the Australian news media landscape.

“We share the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort. But its solution is counterproductive to that goal.

The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers. Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers”, Easton said.

Facebook has already slated an update to its terms of service for 1 October. Under section 3.2 of its new terms of service, Facebook will be able to “remove or restrict access to [users’] content, services or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook”.

Facebook’s response to Australia’s proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code

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