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MP warns ‘irresponsible’ Facebook news ban ‘not just about Australia’

Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter
·2-min read

Facebook has been accused of using bullying tactics after its decision to ban news on its platform in Australia.

The tech giant is pulling news content from its platform in Australia, over a new law proposal that compels internet firms to pay news organisations.

Julian Knight, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, said the social network’s reaction is “staggeringly irresponsible” and was a message to the world about any country that tries to limit its power.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, the MP said: “This is a crass move, a bullying move … I think it’s staggeringly irresponsible – at a time when we are facing a plethora of fake news and disinformation in relation to the Covid vaccine.

Facebook
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“This is not just about Australia. This is Facebook putting a marker down, saying to the world that ‘if you do wish to limit our powers… we can remove what is for many people a utility’.”

Australian politicians are considering forcing digital businesses to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies with draft legislation that could create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

The code would create an arbitration panel to set a binding price for news in situations where Google and Facebook do not reach deals with media businesses whose original journalism they link to.

In response, Facebook decided to ban the sharing or viewing of news posts via its platform for users in Australia.

Mr Knight said there needs to be a competition role across the whole social media sector in the UK.

“The problem that I see is that these platforms make enormous sums of money from other peoples’ work, and they aren’t returning any equitable value to them,” he continued.

“I don’t think they [Facebook] are being a good citizen, not just in Australia, but elsewhere … To pull the plug overnight represents the worst type of corporate culture.”

Henry Faure Walker, chairman of the UK’s news media trade group News Media Association, described Facebook as a “school yard bully”.

“Facebook’s sudden ban on news in Australia during a global pandemic is a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves,” he said.

“The recent deals struck between Google in Australia and news publishers are a welcome acknowledgement of the principle that independent journalism has to be paid for.

“However, Facebook’s actions in Australia demonstrate precisely why we need jurisdictions across the globe, including the UK, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers.”