Facebook blocks Australians from news as content payment dispute grows

Photo: AP An Australian Broadcasting Corporation page on Facebook is displayed without posts in Sydney, 18 February.

Facebook announced on Thursday it has blocked Australians from viewing and sharing news on the platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism, AP reported.

Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can’t be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, the US-based company said in a statement. Australian users cannot share Australian or international news. International users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news. “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” PM Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post.

The announcement comes a day after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described as “very promising” negotiations between Facebook and Google with Australian media companies. Frydenberg said after weekend talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, he was convinced that the platforms “do want to enter into these commercial arrangements.”

But communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the government would not back down on its legislative agenda. The Senate will consider the draft laws after they were passed by the House of Representatives late Wednesday.

Meanwhile Google is striking pay deals with Australian news media companies under its own News Showcase model. Seven West Media on Monday became the largest Australian news media business to strike a deal with Google to pay for journalism.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. has since announced a wide-ranging deal. Rival Nine Entertainment is reportedly close to its own pact and ABC is also in negotiations.

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