Australia and Facebook in talks over sweeping news ban

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Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg held talks with the Australian government today over a law that would force the social media giant to pay for content. — Reuters pic
Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg held talks with the Australian government today over a law that would force the social media giant to pay for content. — Reuters pic

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SYDNEY, Feb 19 — Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg held talks with the Australian government today over a law that would force the social media giant to pay for content, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted the country would not bend to “threats” from big tech.

From yesterday, Australians could no longer post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of Australian outlets, which are also barred from sharing their content. 

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had spoken with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg today, and that negotiations would continue over the weekend.

“We talked through their remaining issues and agreed our respective teams would work through them immediately,” Frydenberg said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media in Sydney that Facebook’s ban constituted a “threat”.

“I thought that was not a good move on their part, and they should move quickly past that, come back to the table,” he said.

The ban comes in response to a planned Australian law that would force digital giants Facebook and Google to pay major Australian outlets for carrying snippets or links to their content on the platforms.

Morrison said the legislation — due to be debated by Australia’s Senate on Monday in the next step towards it becoming law — was garnering interest from other world leaders.

The law was raised in a Thursday call with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said.

“There’s a lot of interest in it,” he told media. “People are looking at what Australia is doing.”

Facebook has defended its response, saying the proposed legislation was unworkable and insisting it was forced to introduce the news blackout.

Since the ban came into effect, experts report visitors to Australian news sites dropped both at home and abroad, with overseas traffic down by over 20 per cent per day, according to data analytics company Chartbeat.

The data also suggested users were not yet leaving Facebook in response to the ban, however, with no apparent rise in Google search traffic recorded.

Facebook’s sweeping ban drew widespread criticism for inadvertently blocking access to several critical government pages, including emergency services, health departments and the national weather service — with most restored in the hours after it came into effect.

Despite earlier threats to pull its search from Australia over the legislation, Google softened its stance and instead brokered several deals with large media companies, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — AFP

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