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Facebook pulls news content from Australian users sparking massive backlash

Facebook has blocked its Australian users from sharing news on the platform over moves from the country’s government to make online platforms pay news providers for their content.

The plan was first announced last April as a way to halt the decline of news firms amid declining revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.

In an open letter, Google quickly responded warning that the plans would hurt the user experience and provide “unfair” advantages to large news businesses over smaller providers. It later threatened to pull out of the country altogether over the plans, with Microsoft stepping in to offer its Bing search engine in Google’s place.

Facebook’s decision caused an angry backlash from its users, as well as media groups, politicians and human rights groups in Australia as it became clear that official health pages and emergency warnings had been scrubbed along with news sites, just three days before the launch of a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Although Australia is a small market, the law is being closely watched around the world by regulators, and could be a test case for a bigger global push to force internet giants to share more of their revenue with content providers.

Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook had taken the drastic action because Canberra’s House of Representatives passed legislation that would make Facebook and Google pay for Australian journalism. The legislation needs to be passed by the Senate before it becomes law.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison later hit out on his own Facebook page, using Facebook jargon.

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said.

“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”

“We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament.”

Meanwhile, Facebook users in the UK will soon see information labels on posts about climate change, as part of wider efforts to debunk climate myths.

Labels will direct people to the Climate Science Information Centre section of the platform, starting as a “small test” on posts in the UK before rolling out to other countries.

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