Facebook has announced that it will block Australian users from sharing or viewing news content amid a dispute over a proposed law.
Australia wants tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay for the content reposted from news outlets.
The social media giant said the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers”.
Australia previously called Facebook’s threats of such a ban “misconceived”.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) says it drew up the new rules to “level the playing field” between the tech giants and publishers.
The Australian government says it will put the legislation to a vote in the coming weeks.
Facebook announced its new policy in a blog post on Wednesday, saying the proposed legislation had left it “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,” it said.
Under its new rules, Facebook said Australian users would not be able read or share news content on the platform, while Australian news publishers would be restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook pages.
“Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted,” it said.
Australian media reported that the ban appears to have already come into effect, with users reporting that they are unable to see news articles on their Facebook pages.
The American Economic Liberties Project, a Washington-based anti-monopoly group, criticised the move.
“By censoring Australian publishers to maintain its advertising revenue, Facebook has shown it is a threat to democracies worldwide,” research director Matt Stoller said in a statement.
The announcement by Facebook came hours after Google agreed to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for content from news sites across its media empire.
Australia is not a big market for Facebook. And Facebook says news isn’t a big driver of revenue for the company. So why does it care so much about this law?
This is far more about the principle. Other countries have been looking at what is happening in Australia. There’s speculation that Canada, even the EU could follow Australia’s lead – something Facebook wants to avoid.
Facebook does already pay for some news. It’s entered into commercial deals with media companies in the UK, for example.
What Facebook wants to do, however, is call the shots.
Its executives do not want governments to step in, telling them they have to pay for news – and even setting the price.
Facebook, then, has decided to show that there are consequences for governments if they want to take muscular action against Big Tech.
But that could backfire spectacularly. That Facebook can essentially switch off Australian news on its platform is already being criticised as anti-democratic – even authoritarian – in some quarters.