Facebook’s Australia Ban Explained In A Few Minutes

Published on March 8, 2021

Facebook briefly banned its users from sharing news content on its platform in Australia. The move was aimed at taking a stance on a new piece of proposed legislation that would force social media companies like Facebook to pay publishers when people post their content to social media. The law, should it go into effect, would disrupt Facebook’s business model almost entirely as most of its users are on the platform to share and discuss various news topics.

The new law, which was approved by the Australian parliament in February, would require companies like Facebook and Google to pay media outlets what are called content arbitrage fees to be able to have their content on their platforms. In response to the legislation, Facebook decided to stop the sharing of all news content within Australia—that meant that users could not post news content on their own feeds, and no news outlets could post their own content either.

In a blog post on the Facebook website, Facebook’s VP of Global Affairs Nick Clegg, argued that allegations that Facebook is able to build its site off of the journalism that people share on its platform is false. Clegg argues that users share less news than the proposed legislation would suggest, and that user surveys even imply that Facebook users want to see even less news content than they do now.

Clegg then argues that requiring Facebook to pay for linking to news sites would go against the very basics of the internet as we know it, and called the proposed arbitrage fees “astronomical.” However, the news of the legislation sparked global legal discourse, particularly in the United States where Facebook is already involved in an antitrust scandal over its ownership of Instagram.

How social media companies would have to work with news outlets has been argued for quite some time already, so the action in Australia could speed things up. Make drastic changes too quickly, though, and the consequences of any arbitration requirements could prove grave for the media companies that are supposed to benefit from them.

Facebook eventually worked out a deal with the Australian government that allowed the company to restore news sharing in the country. The future of the arbitration law remains up in the air as the Australian government said it would seek it out only as a final option, adding that it will insert an amendment based on whether a company has worked significantly with news organizations in the past.

One unintended consequence from Facebook’s decision to ban news content in Australia, however, was that it fueled the spread of misinformation about censorship in big tech here in the United States. After the company banned former President Donald Trump back in January, much of the debate around big tech’s control in the world has surrounded its ability to censor information at will. While companies like Twitter and Facebook generally only choose to censor information that could get them in legal trouble—or seated in front of Congress to answer questions—the media frenzy surrounding Trump’s ban only enflamed the discourse on the very platforms that were being scrutinized.

That is to say, many conservative Facebook users were upset that Trump got banned, but then they were even more upset to hear that the company had the power to ban news content in Australia. The two stories had nothing to do with one another, but only demonstrate the power that Facebook holds in being able to disseminate accurate—or inaccurate—information on a global scale.


Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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