What's This About A Facebook News Ban?

Australian Facebook users woke up this morning to find themselves banned from viewing and sharing news content. We explain why.

Ah yes. There's nothing like waking up, scrolling through the news and clocking the undue influence one Mark Zuckerberg has over our silly lives.

Yep, as you may have heard, Facebook's just blocked Australian users from both sharing or viewing both Australian and international news content. Mosey on over to the Facebook pages for ABC News or Sydney Morning Herald  and you will be greeted by a nothingness. A whiteness. An endlessness. Stretching on beyond the human imagination. (These are Mighty Boosh lyrics, sorry about that.)

How the hell did we get here?

The changes are a response to the Morrison government's proposed news media bargaining laws, which passed through the House of Representatives last night. With the news media bargaining code in place, Facebook would have been forced to pay Australian media companies for news content.

It's fair to say that Facebook didn't really like this idea, and back in September last year they threatened to ban media companies from sharing news on the platform if the media bargaining code was to go ahead. "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," said Will Easton, the managing director of Australia and New Zealand. He continued: "We are left with a choice of either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits. Unfortunately, no business can operate that way."

Since the media bargaining proposal came into law last night, the tech behemoth just this morning confirmed they were making good on their promise. "In response to Australia's proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content," read the statement released this morning. "The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. 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. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter."

"Unfortunately, this means people and news organisations in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook."

What pages have been affected?

It is with a heavy heart that we report: MTV Australia's news posts have. (We miss you already. Sign up to our newsletter, and we'll leave all this behind).

The Sydney Morning Herald also reports that the Facebook pages of news media including ABC News, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Newscorp publications and even articles published by satirical news pages like The Chaser and The Betoota Advocate have bitten the dust. Some Facebook groups run by Australian media companies have no articles on them at all.

The ban isn't limited to Australian news content, either. Australian users also won't be able view or share news content from international media companies; take for example, The New York Times or The Washington Post.

The ban has reportedly even affected the digital platforms of several government agencies, including state-led health departments. This comes as Australia prepares to roll out its COVID-19 vaccination program next week, so perfect timing Zuckerberg, thanks.

How has the Morrison government reacted?

Stubbornly. Responding to Thursday's announcement, Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher reckons the government won't back down.

"We'll be maintaining the path that we've been following. The Prime Minister, the Treasurer and I have been very consistent on that," Mr Fletcher reportedly told 2GB radio.

His take is that Facebook would now be more vulnerable to the spread of mis- and disinformation.

"It's very important that we have a diverse and well-resourced news media sector in Australia, that's a critical part of our democracy. Now, that may not seem important to a company in Silicon Valley, but it's very important to the Australian government and the Australian people," he continued.

"They are effectively saying to Australians if you're looking for reliable news Facebook is not the place to look for it."

Facebook's decision came after the result of multiple discussions between Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Mark Zuckerberg, and boy would I have have loved to have been a fly on that (virtual) wall.

So now what?

The media bargaining code, having passed the House of Representatives last night, and ABC News reckons it'll likely pass the Senate next week. We'll have to wait and see.

The code doesn't just apply to Facebook: it applies to all "news content made available by digital platform services" – so all search engines and social media platforms – including Google.

A bunch of stalwart Australian media companies like News Corp, Seven West Media and Nine have apparently all made content deals with Google this week.

As for the future of those of us who rely on Facebook for shit-posting about the news? Uh, you might want to pivot to Twitter.

Better yet, sign up to MTV Australia's stunning newsletter. You'll be greeted with a delightful new ramble from our editor each week, plus the week's best stories. Go on, help us cut out the middle man. (We're looking at you, Zuck.)

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer for MTV Australia. Follow her at @purpletank.

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