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Facebook wipes Australian news content in new showdown with the law

Benjamin Millier

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Australian Facebook users have been blocked from accessing news sites through their social media feeds in a dramatic escalation of the tech giant’s standoff with the federal government over proposed new laws.

Facebook users have had their local and international news links removed from their feeds and all posts have been scrubbed from the Facebook pages of Australian news outlets, including Star Weekly.

Star Weekly editor Paul Thomas said the moves were a “political position” and proved the ACCC’s claim that Facebook is a monopoly with undue market power.

Mr Thomas said Australian news outlets producing factual and balanced news give Facebook relevance.

“Facebook has been on the backs of news companies for too long,” he said.

“Facebook’s assertion that the exchange of value between Facebook and publishers rotates in favor of publishers is a complete fabrication of the truth.”

Mr Thomas said Facebook pays almost no local taxes, is not subject to the same defamation laws as the media and does not pay copyright fees.

“Not to mention that they don’t employ anyone to farm content like news organizations do, and are happy to rely on ours for years for free.”

The sudden shutdown, triggered on Thursday, also wiped out content from a range of other pages, including health and emergency services, social services, charities and the Bureau of Meteorology.

The company blamed the move on proposed Australian laws requiring tech companies like Facebook and Google to pay for news content.

Google has announced multimillion-dollar deals with a handful of Australian news organizations these days, but Facebook has so far resisted negotiating direct deals ahead of proposed changes to the law.

In a post on Facebook’s webpage on Thursday morning, Facebook Australia and New Zealand chief executive William Easton confirmed the company is blocking publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing news content. Australian and international in response to Australia’s new Media Negotiations Act.

“The bill fundamentally ignores the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content,” he said.

“It left us with a stark choice: try to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With heavy hearts, we choose the latter.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the ABC that Facebook needs to carefully consider what this means for its reputation and reputation.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg tweeted that he had a “constructive discussion” with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday morning.

“He raised a few remaining issues with the government’s news media trading code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a way forward.”