Facebook today threatened to block Australians from sharing news stories on its website if it is forced to pay for them.
The move is in response to an Australian law that would force Facebook and Google to negotiate fees with the news companies whose stories appear on their websites – with fines of millions of dollars if they fail to comply.
But Facebook said today it would ‘stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram’ if the proposal becomes law.
One expert said Facebook wanted to kill off Australia’s initiative to stop it spreading to other countries where the financial impact would be more severe.
The social media giant says it faces unlimited costs if the move becomes law in Australia and is fighting a bitter battle with regulators to stop it.
Australia’s government immediately dismissed the threat today and vowed it would ‘not respond to coercion’.
Google has also campaigned against the new law with pop-ups saying ‘the way Aussies use Google is at risk’, but has not threatened a cut-off like Facebook.
Australia’s crackdown is targeting stories that appear in Google searches, Facebook’s news feed and on Instagram without any money going to the news businesses which actually produce them.
Australia says this is a ‘fundamental bargaining power imbalance’ which means that news websites are unfairly deprived of advertising revenue siphoned off by Google and Facebook.
Facebook Australia was paid A$674million (£370million) by local advertisers in 2019.
Regulators say that Facebook and Google not only benefit financially from showing the news stories, but also boost their status as news providers in Australia and collect user data which is used to improve their services.
Facebook also profits from the ‘like’ and ‘share’ buttons on other websites which allow its servers to track people’s activity and send them tailored ads.
In addition to payment for content, the measures would also force transparency around the closely guarded algorithms that tech firms use to rank content.