Facebook is blocking Australian users from reading and sharing news.

The shock move by Facebook comes with Australia poised to adopt legislation that would force digital platforms to pay for news content.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook's decision to stop Australian publishers and users from sharing or viewing news content sends a strong message about its credibility.

"Facebook needs to think very carefully about what this means for its reputation and standing," Mr Fletcher told the ABC.

"They're effectively saying, on our platform, there will not be any information from organisations which employ paid journalists, which have fact checking processes, editorial policies. They're effectively saying any information that is available on our site does not come from these reliable sources."

 

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A message greeting Facebook users trying to share now banned news content.
A message greeting Facebook users trying to share now banned news content.

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Facebook's Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton announced the ban in a statement dated Wednesday.

Facebook said it had been left with a choice between attempting to comply with a law it thinks "ignores the realities" of the relationship between it and news publishers, or to simply stop allowing the content altogether.

This is what it means for you:

 

 

 

WHAT IF I WANT TO READ OR SHARE AUSTRALIAN NEWS?

There's nothing stopping you going directly to the website of an Australian news site to read their content, you just won't see it on Facebook anymore, or be able to share articles on your timeline to discuss them with your friends. It's likely you can still send them in direct or group messages on Facebook platforms such as Messenger and WhatsApp.

WHAT IF I WANT TO READ OR SHARE INTERNATIONAL NEWS?

If you're outside of Australia you can still post links from international news sources but not from Australian ones. If you share this content it won't be seen in Australia.

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The Facebook page for news.com.au has been scrubbed but you can still read articles on this site and its other social media platforms.
The Facebook page for news.com.au has been scrubbed but you can still read articles on this site and its other social media platforms.

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HOW IS FACEBOOK ENFORCING THIS?

Australian users won't be able to post links featuring the URL of any news outlets, while international users are banned from sharing links with the URL of any Australian news outlets. Facebook uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to police its site, including to perform early level content moderation. This isn't always a perfect system but given this change targets specific URLs and doesn't require the interpretation of content to see if it complies with the site's guidelines, it's unlikely Facebook will have much trouble keeping the links off its platform.

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ABC News Facebook page has ‘no posts yet’ because Facebook has banned them.
ABC News Facebook page has ‘no posts yet’ because Facebook has banned them.

WHY IS FACEBOOK BANNING NEWS NOW?

The House of Representatives is currently considering a bill that would amend Australia's Competition and Consumer Act to establish a mandatory code of conduct that applies to news media and digital platforms when bargaining in relation to news content that appears on the platforms, with a specific focus on Facebook and Google.

That proposed code came after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's Digital Platforms Inquiry showed that Facebook and Google dominated the digital advertising market in Australia.

One of 7 News many Facebook accounts that has been scrubbed of content.
One of 7 News many Facebook accounts that has been scrubbed of content.

The ACCC also found Google and Facebook were "unavoidable business partners for media companies to both access an audience for their content and secure advertising revenue".

The Government "accepted the overriding conclusion that there was a need for reform" and committed to "address bargaining power concerns" between the platforms and publishers by tasking the ACCC to develop a voluntary code of conduct.

In April last year, due to a lack of progression in the creation of the voluntary proposed code, it was upgraded to a mandatory one.

The Bill before parliament claims the mandatory code of conduct will "help support the sustainability of the Australian news media sector by addressing bargaining power imbalances".

 

In effect this means the platforms would have to pay the news publishers for their content.

Facebook disagrees and argues that "the value exchange between Facebook and publishers runs in favour of the publishers - which is the reverse of what the legislation would require the arbitrator to assume".

The company claims news content makes up less than four per cent of the content people see on Facebook, and argues that it referred more than five billion pairs of eyeballs to local publishers, which it "estimated" was worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

GOOGLE IS PLAYING BALL, SO WHY NOT FACEBOOK?

The new code has a specific focus on Google and Facebook as they are the two companies that dominate the digital advertising market, with huge amounts of data they can use to target ads at you.

After threatening to shut down Australian services (to the delight of Microsoft which quickly showed enthusiasm to replace Google with Bing), Google has been shaking hands and signing papers all week with major news publishers in Australia, inking deals worth tens of million a year with Seven West Media, Nine Entertainment, and News Corp (publisher of this website) for content to appear in Google's News Showcase product.

Google's News Showcase product. Source: Supplied.
Google's News Showcase product. Source: Supplied.

Google pledged last year to spend $US1bn ($A1.29 billion) over three years on news content.

Other deals with the ABC and the Guardian are reportedly "in eleventh-hour negotiations".

But Facebook argues it is not the same as Google and the pair "have fundamentally different relationships with news".

"Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue."

The company argued it was prepared to launch its own competitor to Google's News Showcase in Australia, which would come with significantly increased investment in local publishers, but would only do so "with the right rules in place".

Originally published as What your Facebook feed will look like


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