Unannounced, Facebook banned Australian news sites and emergency services and disaster alerts. It was a decision “with a heavy heart”.
Facebook seeks direct confrontation in the dispute with the Australian government over a controversial media law – and has blocked important news sites on its platform. Australian Facebook users can no longer share journalistic content. But emergency services and disaster warnings were also affected. The apparently unannounced move caused anger “Down Under”. Facebook assured that it made the decision “with a heavy heart”.
The subject dominated all the front pages of the major Australian newspapers. The renowned Melbourne newspaper “The Age” tried to explain to its readers what happened overnight: “In the early hours of Thursday morning, shortly after the House of Representatives approved the bill, Facebook used its nuclear option: news links can no longer be shared and publishers can no longer post on their Facebook pages. “
Facebook “unfriended” Australia
Prime Minister Scott Morrison quickly made it clear on Thursday that his administration would not be intimidated by Zuckerberg and Co. He called the measures “as disappointing as they were arrogant” and railed that Facebook had “unfriended” Australia. The measures confirmed concerns of more and more countries about big tech companies “who believe they are more important than governments and that the rules shouldn’t apply to them”. Then he angrily added, “They may change the world, but that doesn’t mean they rule it.”
The Media Act is intended to distribute advertising revenue more fairly. Internet giants such as the Google parent company Alphabet and Facebook would have to pay local media companies in the future if they distribute their content. In the dispute that had been smoldering for months, the corporations had repeatedly emphasized that they did not consider this to be feasible. Facebook had already threatened to ban news in Australia from its service last August, and last repeated this threat at a Senate hearing in January.
In the tug of war with Canberra, Google also threatened to shut down its search engine. Now, however, the US giant gave in and agreed on payments for journalistic content with several media companies, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
The agreement ran for three years, it said. “Significant payments” are planned to the company, which owns newspapers such as “The Australian”, “The Daily Telegraph” and “The Herald Sun” in Australia and renowned overseas papers such as the “Wall Street Journal” and the London “Times” . The head of the News Corp in Australia, Michael Miller, spoke of an “historical development from which not only our business, but also journalists all over Australia and the world will benefit”.
Google pays, Facebook refuses
So the ruble rolls with Google, while Facebook doesn’t want to pay. The US company announced that the proposed law was based on a misunderstanding of the relationship between the platforms and the publishers. Australian publishers have benefited from sharing their posts on Facebook. “It now presents us with a tough choice: trying to obey a law that fails to recognize the reality of this relationship, or no longer allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we chose the latter.”
Finance Minister Josh Frydenberg complained above all that the Internet giant had not announced the blockade. That was “wrong and unnecessary”. “I encourage Facebook to work constructively with the Australian government, as Google recently did in good faith.”
As a result of the lock, some Facebook pages of important authorities were blocked – including the Australian police, the fire department and some government agencies that are currently providing information on the corona pandemic. Facebook later announced it was not intended and the pages would be restored.
Great own goal
Human Rights Watch spoke of a “dangerous step”. It was “unprecedented” to cut people off from important information in the middle of the night, said the organization’s director of Australia, Elaine Pearson, of Sky News Australia.
The media expert Josef Trappel from the University of Salzburg spoke of an “inappropriate show of force”. In the APA conversation, Trappel described the Internet company’s approach as “a terrific own goal by Facebook. To say that we accidentally switched off all government communications only to switch it back on – these are demonstrations of power.” He also spoke of a “very adolescent reaction. You can’t do media politics like that.”
(APA / DPA)