Facebook Australia: ban explained as social media network reverses news removal – what it means for UK users

‘We simply won't be intimidated,’ said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Facebook has reversed its move to block the sharing or viewing of news links on its platform in Australia, originally in response to a proposed law compelling tech giants to pay for journalism.

Last week (18 February), the social media giant removed all Australia news links as politicians considered forcing digital businesses like Facebook to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies.

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If passed, legislation would have created a so-called “News Media Bargaining Code”, which would have created a panel to set a price for news in situations where Google and Facebook did not reach deals with media businesses whose journalism they link to.

Facebook has banned publishers and users in Australia from posting and sharing news content as the government prepares to pass laws that will require companies to pay publishers for sharing or using content (Photo: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Essentially, it would have meant Facebook would have had to pay for news published to the site that originates not from a publisher with whom they already have an agreement.

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Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end "in the coming days", after the pair had talks.

Mr Frydenberg said amendments would be made to the law.

Australia's Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher speaks during Question Time in the House of Representatives on 18 February 2021 (Photo: Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

"Facebook has re-friended Australia," he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why were Facebook blocking news in Australia?

William Easton, managing director at Facebook Australia & New Zealand, claimed that last year Facebook generated around 5.1 billion “free referrals” to Australian publishers, worth an estimated £227 million.

The Australian government sees Facebook as profiting from these links and referrals, though Easton said the social media giant receives a “minimal” business gain from news – which makes up less than 4% of content users see on their news feed – and said the proposals seek to “penalise” Facebook for “content it didn’t take or ask for”.

Facebook and other US technology businesses like Google have “fundamentally different relationships with news,” he added, saying “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.”

“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.”

What does it mean for me?

Facebook said the changes mean that although “international” publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

Meanwhile its “international community” – including users in the UK – will not be able to view or share Australian news content.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded by saying: "Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing.”

"I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues. We simply won't be intimidated," he added.

But Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg had told him the ban would end "in the coming days", after the pair had talks.

Could Facebook News be the answer in Australia?

Facebook News, the social network’s new section dedicated to personalised news content, launched in the UK last month, allowing users to see curated news stories from major national, local and lifestyle media outlets.

Facebook is paying publishers for their content, with input coming from media outlets such as Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, Sky News and Telegraph Media Group.

Easton said the company is prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia to “significantly increase our investments with local publishers”, but would only do so “with the right rules in place”.

“Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences,” he said.