Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has warned Facebook that its decision to pull news content from Australian users will damage its reputation in the country.
“Facebook was wrong. Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra.
“Their decision to block Australians’ access to government sites … were completely unrelated to the media code which is yet to pass through the Senate,” he said.
The social media giant’s actions on Thursday has instead confirmed for all Australians “the immense market power of these media digital giants,” he said.
“These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape,” Frydenberg said.
News outlets including The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, ABC, and The Epoch Times, discovered on Thursday morning that the tech giant had implemented an outright ban across their Facebook pages.
However, a swathe of non-media related Facebook pages were caught in the crossfire as well.
Websites for the state Queensland Health Department, the national Bureau of Meteorology, members of Parliament, and even non-profit organisations such as 1800 Respect and trade unions saw their pages restricted and all content wiped.
So @Facebook has blocked access to our website. We are not a news organisation. Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately pic.twitter.com/588Qf1JbuD
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) February 17, 2021
— Rex Patrick (@Senator_Patrick) February 18, 2021
The ban comes as Facebook follows through on a threat to remove news content in response to the Morrison government’s impending News Media Bargaining Code.
The Code legislates a framework that allows eligible Australian news outlets to enter negotiations with Google and Facebook to have the tech giants pay for their content.
Despite initial resistance, Google came to the table and has spent the last week completing deals with major media organisations including News Corp and Nine Entertainment.
Facebook’s ban came as a surprise to the treasurer, who had just met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that morning.
Opposition Treasurer Jim Chalmers blamed the government for Facebook’s actions.
“It will have consequences for all those people who rely on Facebook to get their news, credible news from credible sources,” he told reporters on Thursday morning.
“This is a mess of the government’s making. It is up to the government to tell us what has gone on here and what they are doing to fix it,” he added.
Frydenberg indicated the government would stand firm on the code.
“The Morrison government’s position is very clear—we will legislate this code,” he said. “We want the digital giants paying traditional news media businesses for generating original journalistic content. This is critical to sustaining public interest journalism in this country, and this is world-leading.”