Facebook threatens to remove news from its platform in Australia

Users could be blocked from sharing news, Facebook claims, if new draft regulations are put in place.

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Facebook is pushing back against proposed regulations by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

After the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) submitted a draft regulatory code, designed to let Australian news publications "negotiate for fair payment for their journalists' work", Facebook's Australia is pushing back.

Facebook Australia's Managing Director, Will Easton, published a statement today claiming the regulations "misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect".

"Assuming this draft code becomes law," Easton continued, "we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram."

Easton believes the regulatory code is an "outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia's news and media sector."

Stating that Facebook has invested millions of dollars in local Australian news companies, Easton also claimed the ACCC misunderstands the dynamic between Facebook and news organisations. 

"The ACCC presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true," he wrote. "News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us. Still, we recognize that news provides a vitally important role in society and democracy, which is why we offer free tools and training to help media companies reach an audience many times larger than they have previously."

In a statement sent to CNET, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said Facebook's threat was "ill-timed and misconceived".

"The draft media bargaining code aims to ensure Australian news businesses, including independent, community and regional media, can get a seat at the table for fair negotiations with Facebook and Google," said Sims.

"Facebook already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google's relationships with Australian news media businesses. 

"We note that according to the University of Canberra's 2020 Digital News Report, 39% of Australians use Facebook for general news, and 49% use Facebook for news about COVID-19.

"As the ACCC and the Government work to finalise the draft legislation, we hope all parties will engage in constructive discussions."

Google has also pushed back against the proposed regulations, claiming they would "put the free services you use at risk".

In response, the ACCC claimed Google would not be forced to charge users, "unless it chooses to do so". The ACCC believes its proposed regulations will "address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook."

Under the ACCC's proposal, companies like Facebook and Google will have three months to negotiate with Australian media organisations. 

"A healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy," said the ACCC, in a statement.