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Australian PM hits out at 'arrogant' Facebook after citizens blocked from viewing and sharing news

The company announced the new measure last night.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER Scott Morrison has described Facebook as “arrogant” and “unconscionable” after the social network banned the country’s users from sharing news.

The company announced last night that Australians can no longer view or share news on the platform because of proposed laws that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Posts on the Facebook pages of the country’s media have been deleted, while fears about misinformation have grown because fake news and conspiracy theories can no longer be debunked using Australian sources.

Several Facebook pages that regularly promote misinformation and conspiracy theories were unaffected by the ban and were not deleted.

A technical hitch also meant that the Facebook pages of children’s charities, a domestic violence hotline and various emergency services were also scrubbed from the platofrm.

A Facebook spokesperson said that official government pages – including those alerting the public to Covid-19 outbreaks, bushfires and cyclones – were not the target and were “inadvertently impacted”.

Some non-news sites caught up in the blackout gradually returned today, but Australians are still grappling with the fallout from the decision.

Reacting to the development, Morrison said Facebook had made a decision to “unfriend” Australia.

He vowed to press ahead with the new laws, and hit out at Facebook for “cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services”, describing the company’s actions as “arrogant as they were disappointing”.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said that the move was especially dangerous days before the country starts rolling out its coronavirus vaccines.

“I would say again to Facebook… forget the money, start growing up and making sure that you are about community and safety above all else,” he said.

Facebook’s move came hours after Australia’s Treasurer tweeted that he had a “constructive discussion” with CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the legislation, which is currently being considered in parliament.

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Facebook has strongly objected to the rules, saying the proposed laws “fundamentally misunderstand” the relationship between its platform and publishers.

Facebook’s response contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with Australian groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

News Corp was the last major private media company to make a deal and was instrumental in pushing the conservative Australian government to tackle the tech giants.

Australia’s competition watchdog has maintained that for every $100 spent on online advertising, Google captures $53, Facebook takes $28 and the rest is shared among others, depriving media outlets of revenue needed to support journalism.

© AFP 2021

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