Facebook Inc.’s decision to block news sharing on its Australian platform is an unprecedented show of force that escalates a legal standoff with the government and flashes a warning to regulators worldwide.
The tech giant imposed the restrictions early Thursday, an unexpected riposte to a proposed law that will force the company and Google to pay Australian publishers for news content.
Facebook’s algorithmic ambush switched off the main news source for almost one in five Australians. It also disabled — accidentally, the company said — a raft of government Facebook pages carrying public health advice on the coronavirus, warnings from the weather bureau and even the site of a children’s hospital.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who just days earlier had touted the “great progress” he’d made during talks with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, accused Facebook of a heavy-handed attack that undermined access to credible information.
The legislation, still being debated in parliament, is aimed at compensating a local media industry that has hemorrhaged advertising revenue to digital platforms for decades. But rather than paying up, Facebook is drawing a line in the sand for fear Australia will set a precedent for global regulators.
“They’ve created chaos, and it’s quite deliberate,” said Daniel Angus, Brisbane-based associate professor in digital communication at Queensland University of Technology.
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. It’s also negotiated a string of deals with media companies, in the hope of avoiding the arbitration process enforced by the law.
Earlier Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. said it reached an international deal for the search giant to pay for journalism from the Wall Street Journal and newspapers in Australia.