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Facebook blocks news sites, charities, government pages in Australia

Facebook blocks news sites, charities, government pages in Australia”

Facebook, which has always been criticized for allowing misinformation to flourish on its platforms, now finds itself in a peculiar position of also blocking the news media that has provided a fact check on false content.

The social media giant was acting in response to tough new regulations that will force it and Google to pay for the news stories shown on their platforms.

However, in doing so, it also prevented users from seeing posts on the Pages of entities like Doctors without Borders, St. Vincent's Health, the Bureau of Meteorology, Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA, and the health department Pages for ACT, South Australia, NSW and Queensland - all of which are clearly non-media accounts.

Facebook faced an angry backlash on Thursday after blocking news feeds in Australia in a surprise escalation of a dispute with the government which could be a test for the future of online publishing worldwide. It has left us facing a stark choice: "attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia", the blog post from Facebook said.

Without reliable news from Australian media companies on Australian Facebook pages, the company will have to ramp up checks on dubious material that hasn't been blocked, said Johan Lidberg, an associate professor at Melbourne's Monash University who specializes in media and journalism.

"Today we made an incredibly hard decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia", said Campbell Brown, Facebook's vice president of Global News Partnerships, in a blog post.

Australia's lawmakers are in the final throes of passing the "News Media Bargaining Code", legislation that would order Facebook and Google (but not other Big Tech companies that display local content) to pay publishers for their digital material.

Facebook said it had blocked a wide swathe of pages because the draft law did not provide clearly define news content.

Together, Google and Facebook are the gateway to news for half of all Australians, according to the country's competition watchdog.

But Facebook's move to block news in Australia would be hard to repeat in larger markets such as the United States and Europe as a whole - potentially hitting the company's bottom line.

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Alphabet-owned Google also opposes the law and has threatened to shut its search engine in Australia if the legislation proceeds in its current form.

The media bargaining code is before the Senate after clearing the lower chamber of parliament. Facebook pays to use fact checks from around 60 such organisations, including media outlets and specialised fact checkers, on its platform and on Instagram.

"I've spoken to Facebook this morning and said the Government expects them to restore those pages as quickly as possible".

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg strongly criticized Facebook's move.

Google made peace with Australia's biggest publisher, Rupert Murdoch-owned News Corp, and agreed to a three-year licensing deal.

It makes you wonder: what if Facebook feared showing fake news to its users in Australia as as much as it fears displaying the real stuff right now? "With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter", Easton added. "Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted".

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said he told Facebook the government expects access to its pages to be restored. Last year, Facebook generated about 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers, worth an estimated 407 million Australian dollars ($315 million), he said, without providing a basis for the calculation.

However, Frydenberg today said "we certainly weren't given any notice by Facebook" regarding Thursday's media industry maelstrom.

Facebook said it will rely on machine learning software to determine what links are considered news. The deal spans audio and video and News Corp. will also get an ad revenue share from Google. "For now, we continue to be focused on bringing Facebook News and other new products to more countries and we have no intention of slowing down".

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