Good morning Australia!!! Today you will not get any news from Facebook. Tune in to your radio instead.

You also won’t have access to:

  • the bureau of meteorology
  • some emergency services in Western Australia
  • health services in Queensland and South Australia (yeah, in a pandemic)
  • parks services – clearly listed as a government organisation
  • Women’s community shelters (for women escaping violent partners)
  • charities
  • some politicians
  • news satire sites – much to the amusement of Australians everywhere.

This is genuinely what Australia woke up to this morning. Organisations have scrambled to point people to the right resources held on their own sites, post notifications on their Facebook pages, and work with Facebook to prove they’re not a news site to get their page reinstated.

Why is this happening?

The Australian government passed legislation that tech giants such as Facebook and Google should pay news organisations to publish their news.

As someone who has watched social media for more than a decade it’s a neat twist, we’ve gone from free social media, to companies paying to have their content displayed to an audience, to the tech giants PAYING for the content. In a logical sense it makes sense, Facebook takes the advertising money that once funded news publishers and would be nothing without content. According to the Guardian “for every $100 of online advertising spend, $53 goes to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to everyone else.”

The Australian legislation sets up a process for tech companies to negotiate with news outlets, and provides a resolution process when no agreement can be met. Google followed that path and came to an agreement with news publishers, meaning that Australians could still search for their news outlets today and find the other organisations they need to reach.

Facebook did not reach an agreement. Facebook is the richest social network in the world and 98% of their income comes from advertising, so it’s not surprising that they will resist any attempt by governments to regulate them. Their public statement is that the law is overly broad making it hard to determine when something is 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.

I’m not convinced, Facebook hires smart people, content in Australia is in English, they have an office in Sydney, they have the world’s best geeks working on AI. They are perfectly capable of distinguishing between a health service and a news organisation, legitimate news and satire, emergency services and a newspaper, community shelters and breaking news.

So this is a power play.

By halfway through the day a number of the affected accounts had had their content reinstated, and we have all been warned about the power Facebook holds. Time will tell whether governments give in to that power or seek stronger regulation.

Image by Maher Ahtsham from Pixabay

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