Facebook ban rocks regional media

Facebook has taken the extraordinary step of blocking Australian news sites from posting to its platform in retaliation to a planned national bargaining code.

Media outlets across Australia felt the impacts, with Colac district outlets the Colac Herald and MixxFM both banned from publishing to Facebook and had previous posts deleted.

The ABC and national outlets also landed on the blacklist. Public services that deliver vital health and weather warnings, like Queensland Health and the Bureau of Meteorology, were unable to provide live updates via the platform following the ban.

The move prompted crisis talks between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook executives to resolve the dispute, which has prompted fears of restricted access to information.

“This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook,” Mr Frydenberg said on Twitter today.

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

Mr Frydenberg ramped up criticism on Facebook at a press conference this afternoon, labelling their decision wrong, unnecessary and heavy-handed.

Colac district media outlets relied on Facebook to share up-to-date information during last year’s COVID-19 outbreak. The protest prohibits this communication method.

Multiple government reports have found that the hyper-local news was vital to ensure accurate information reached the Colac district community during the outbreak because of the slow responses of centralised state health authorities.

Facebook Australia’s managing director William Easton said in a statement this week that the proposed laws “fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content”.

The social media platform had threatened drastic action after the Australian Parliament proposed legislation that required media giants like it and Google to negotiate pay deals with news outlets to share content on digital platforms.

Google has also trialled blocking news sites from searches for some users and launched an aggressive marketing campaign slamming the new laws. But the search engine has reached deals with some outlets while the legislation is before the Senate.

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