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In shock move, Facebook blocks Australians from sharing or viewing news content

Govt health, emergency pages also blocked in the process, invites public wrath


On Thursday, Australians woke up to empty news on their Facebook pages as the social media giant blocked the residents of the continent from viewing and sharing news on the platform because of proposed laws in the country to make digital giants pay for journalism. The unprecedented move caused much alarm over public access to key information.

"Facebook was wrong, Facebook's actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia," Australia Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a televised news conference in response to Facebook's dramatic escalation of the dispute with the government.

Several government health and emergency pages were also blocked in the process—something Facebook later asserted was a mistake. In addition, meteorology and emergency services were also blocked, along with smaller, niche content providers.

Facebook had restored the government services pages by afternoon, but there were still small businesses and community groups who were left venting, with #facebooknewsban and #DeleteFacebook trending on microblogging site Twitter.

According to a Facebook statement, Australian publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts can't be viewed or shared by Australian audiences. Australian users cannot share Australian or international news. International users outside Australia also cannot share Australian news. 

The Facebook decision comes following an escalation of the proposed media bargaining code which would require the company and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms. 

"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 regional managing director William Easton said. 

The announcement comes a day after Treasurer Josh Frydenberg described as very promising negotiations between Facebook and Google with Australian media companies.

Facebook's drastic move is a contrast from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they initially joined together to campaign against the laws. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google has instead sealed preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.

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