Facebook Blocks Australian Users From Viewing or Sharing News

Facebook is the most popular social media network. Since its inception in 2004, it has grown to be one of the world’s most valuable companies. However, it has not been far away from controversy and privacy concerns. In fact, there is a whole page of privacy concerns related to Facebook on Wikipedia. 

Its most recent controversy dwells on its reaction to the Australian government proposing a new law that mandates payment to Australian news publishers for posting news articles on its platform. 

Why Facebook Blocked Australian Users From Viewing or Sharing News

In response to a new law that would mandate the social media company to give some sort of remuneration to news publishers for posting content on its platform, Facebook blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news. This law is known as the News Media Bargaining Code. It was developed by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) after the Australian Government requested its enactment. As stated on the ACCC’s website, the purpose of this legislation is “to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media business and digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.” 

The world has moved largely digital, and news platforms find it more challenging to make advertising revenue as they used to because most of the advertising has moved to social networks. News outlets understand that they cannot effectively compete with social network giants like Facebook and Google in this digital age. Thus, they are requesting compensation for their articles displayed on these networks. 

On the 18th of February 2021, Australians discovered they could not access several pages of local and international news platforms on Facebook. Facebook did not leave out the Australian Government’s health and emergency pages as they were affected as well. It was as though Facebook cut off the Australian media from Australian residents and the rest of the world. 

The world widely heard Facebook’s protest, and it set a precedent that we are not likely to forget anytime soon. Facebook’s move highlights the kind of power social network giants possess. Google, on the other hand, sought a more subtle approach to the law. In fact, there has been news of Google and popular Australian media outlets signing deals that include payments for their content on the social network’s News Showcase. 

Facebook’s Managing Director in the Australian and New Zealand Region, William Easton, gave reasons for the block. In his words, he stated that “the proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us 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.”

He also added that “Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million.” 

Effects of  Facebook Blocking Australian Media Pages

What effects did this block have on the Australian news community? Let’s take a look at what Facebook highlighted as the consequences of the ban on the Australian and international communities. 

1. Australian Publishers

Facebook restricted the accounts of Australian publishers from posting or sharing any content on their pages. However, admins of such pages will continue to have access to features like page insights and Creator Studio. Other routine Facebook services such as data tools and CrowdTangle were not affected. 

2. International Publishers

Facebook confirmed that other publishers could continue to post news content on their pages, but the Australian community could not view or share them. 

3. Australian Community

Anyone resident in Australia did not have access to Australian or international news content on Facebook. 

4. International Community

The international community did not have access to Australian news content and Australian news pages on Facebook.

Facebook’s decision came with a lot of backlash from several organizations, individuals, and governments. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg condemned Facebook’s decision, especially regarding blocking access to government sites during a pandemic. There was also a lot of talk about the power tech giants have and how they need to be regulated by governments. 

Other countries watched with keen interest as Facebook flexed its muscles in Australia. Steven Guilbeault, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, described Facebook’s decision as “highly irresponsible.” Prominent individuals from Amnesty International, Britain’s News Media Association, and Germany’s BDZV were among the international community’s voices against Facebook. 

There were other reactions in favor of Facebook. Techdirt’s founder, Mike Masnick, was in strong support of Facebook’s protest to the legislation. In a blog post on his website, he stated that “Facebook saying that it won’t pay a link tax is a defense of the open web and against Rupert Murdoch. It’s the right move, and whatever else you may think of Facebook, the company deserves credit for taking the right stand here.” 

Social Media Alternatives To Facebook

Although Facebook takes a massive chunk of the social media market, there are other alternatives if you’re looking to protect your privacy and avoid targeted ads. These relatively new entrants also provide an alternative in the event that Facebook pulls a power move like this again. Let’s take a look at some of these social networks. 

1. WT Social

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, created WT Social in a bid to provide a social network that lacks Facebook’s aggressive data collection measures and ad proliferation. WT Social gives its members total control of the user experience. Unlike Facebook, there are no algorithms that determine the type of content you see on your feed. Also, advertising companies have no influence over your feed. 

WT Social expels members who violate its terms and conditions. It also frowns against misinformation by allowing contributors to edit content full of misinformation. WT Social’s mandate is to be a non-toxic social network. 

2. Mastodon

Mastodon is a social network that has been around for about four years. It’s open-source and free to use. Its user interface and user experience are similar to Twitter. It poses as a decentralized alternative to other social media giants like Facebook. It is available on macOS, iOS, Android, Windows and even has a web version. Advertising, tracking, or selling users’ data is absent in this application.

It is similar to apps like Friendica and Diaspora as they are all part of federated social networks that are free and open source. You would need some technical knowledge to create a server, but you can also join servers on its site. 

3. Sociall

Sociall is a blockchain-based social network platform that focuses on providing a safe and privacy-centered application for users. Like other social media networks, you can create posts, find new content, and keep up with friends or people you follow. Sociall boasts powerful privacy features to ensure users have complete control over their data. It also prevents search engines from indexing users’ profiles.

It is a decentralized social network that implements blockchain technology. There is also a Facebook migration tool you can use to import your Facebook profile information. Sociall is still in the beta phase, and it promises to add more features so users can have an enjoyable experience using the app.

4. MeWe 

MeWe is probably the closest application that feels like Facebook in terms of functionality. Regarding privacy, MeWe does not have ads or sell your data to advertising companies. Registering for a MeWe account allows you to create posts, share content, and create groups, among others. 

You can keep up with friends and family by interacting with their posts. Upgrading to a subscription will give users access to features like extra cloud storage, live voice, video calling, encrypted chat, and dark mode. You are in complete control of how your feed appears on the platform. MeWe tasks a small team with ensuring users do not spread misinformation or share harmful posts. It has custom applications for Android, iOS, Windows, and macOS.

5. Friendica

Friendica is yet another decentralized open-source social network that gives users the opportunity to protect their data and the freedom to control. It can be complex to set up, but it doesn’t sell your data to advertisers. Getting an account on Friendica requires you to install its software on your device. You’re creating a personal Friendica server so you can connect with other users. 

Creating a node/server can be difficult for users that do not have the technical knowledge. This is one of the challenging features of using apps like Friendica and Mastodon. However, there are several nodes you can join without needing to create your server. 

Conclusion

Facebook showed what it is capable of when it blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news on its platform. This action resulted in an outcry from several organizations, lawmakers, and individuals. It put more scrutiny on the powers that big tech companies hold. Alternative applications are welcome, but they lack several features and structures to combat companies like Facebook for a significant portion of the market.