Facebook Accused of Bullying by UK Lawmaker and Publishers Over News Sharing Ban

February 19, 2021 Updated: February 19, 2021

Facebook has been accused of “bully boy” tactics for blocking its users from seeing or sharing Australian news content on its site.

A senior British lawmaker on Friday told Reuters that the social media company’s action is an attempt to bully a democracy and will stiffen the resolve of legislators across the world to get tough with the big tech companies.

“This action—this bully boy action—that they’ve undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world,” Julian Knight, chair of the British Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said.

“We represent people and I’m sorry, but you can’t run bulldozer over that. And if Facebook thinks it’ll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco.”

Facebook’s restrictions, which it outlined in a statement on its website on Wednesday, are a reaction to Australia’s planned Media Bargaining law that would make the platform pay for the news shared on its site.

The move has ricocheted through the global news industry.

Chairman of the UK’s News Media Association Henry Faure Walker said the platform’s abrupt blocking of news in Australia amid a global pandemic “is a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.”

“The recent deals struck between Google in Australia and news publishers are a welcome acknowledgment of the principle that independent journalism has to be paid for,” he said in a statement.

A Guardian Media Group spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email, “We are deeply concerned about Facebook’s decision to remove news from its platform in Australia, which clears the way for the spread of misinformation at a time when facts and clarity are sorely needed.

“Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online. We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy.”

Finding a Solution

Governments across the world have been puzzling for years over what to do with the companies that have transformed global communication, amplified misinformation, and taken revenue away from more traditional media producers.

In December last year, the UK government published its Online Harms White Paper in which it recognised that “online platforms can be a tool for abuse and bullying, and they can be used to undermine our democratic values and debate.”

But on Thursday, the government took a more cautious line than some of Facebook’s fiercer critics.

“It is vital people can access accurate news and information from a range of sources, particularly during a global pandemic,” a government spokesman said in a statement, according to Reuters.

“We encourage Facebook and the Australian government to work together to find a solution.”

In response to a request for comment, Facebook referred The Epoch Times to its online statement, which states that the proposed Australian law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content” and “seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.”

According to the statement, rather than “comply with a law that ignores the reality of this relationship,” Facebook chose to block Australian news publishers from sharing or posting any content on its pages and prevented users from viewing or sharing such content.

Though international publishers can still post news, Australian Facebook users are no longer able to see that content under the restrictions.

“We hope that in the future the Australian government will recognise the value we already provide and work with us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers,” Facebook said.

Parler
The social media application logo from Parler displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Va., on July 2, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Facebook’s prohibitions comes just days after free speech social media platform Parler came back online.

It returned with a new hosting service after having been taken down around a month ago by Amazon Web Services, who terminated its hosting agreement and suspended the site from its servers.

The takedown followed a significant spike in Parler user numbers as many moved from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms because of censorship concerns in the wake of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s suspension from Twitter, following which Google and Apple removed Parler from their app stores.

Jack Phillips and Reuters contributed to this report.