Australia’s prime minister on Thursday slammed Facebook’s “arrogant,” retaliatory move to yank news content from its site — as he and other leaders refused to bow to pressure from Silicon Valley.
The sweeping move — which came without warning — was in response to legislation passed by Australia’s House of Representatives that would make Facebook and Google negotiate with media companies and pay for news content that gets distributed on their sites.
The bill is headed for a vote in the Senate and is expected to pass next week.
“We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code,” Morrison promised.
He added, “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.
“They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
Morrison also hinted that he’s rallying global support to take action against Facebook.
“I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,” he wrote.
The two leaders shared a phone call on Thursday afternoon.
Facebook, which has 17 million users in Australia, and Google take a combined 81 percent of online advertising in Australia.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” he wrote. “It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
Facebook’s sudden action has sparked fierce criticism, including from its own former chief executive, Stephen Scheeler, who headed Facebook Australia and New Zealand.
“It shouldn’t have happened. But unfortunately it did,” Scheeler told The Australian. “But there’s no good answers … But at Facebook nobody ever loses their jobs.”
“I’m a proud ex-Facebooker, but over the years I get more and more exasperated. For Facebook and Mark it’s too much about the money, and the power, and not about the good,” Scheeler added. “Imagine if a Chinese company for example had done this, we would be up in arms. All Australians should be quite alarmed by this.”
Scheeler, who resigned in 2017, also urged Australians to boycott the site and called for “more regulation” of the social media giant.
“The law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk,” Mel Silva, a Google Australia managing director, wrote in an August letter.
Google has also threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia if the bill gets passed — though Fletcher noted that the tech giant took a more conciliatory approach to making deals with publishers.
The financial terms weren’t disclosed, but a source close to the situation pegged it at tens of millions of dollars.
Fletcher told ABC that said the proposed law is “about having a diverse, well-resourced media sector in Australia.
“That’s an important part of our democratic process,” he said. “May not seem so important perhaps in Silicon Valley but it’s very important to the Australian government and the Australian people.”
Meanwhile, Facebook said it erroneously restricted so many pages because the draft law didn’t clearly define news content.
For instance, Save the Children Australia, the Hobart Women’s Shelter, and the Kids Cancer Project had their pages pulled from the platform, as did the Brisbane City Council, South Australia Health and the Bureau of Meteorology.
By the evening local time on Thursday, some of these pages had already been restored.
A spokesperson said it would work to restore access to certain pages.
Source: New York Post