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Facebook and Google Threaten to Ban Australians From Sharing News Content

Facebook has said it will stop Australians from sharing news on its platform if Australia's new media bargaining code becomes law.

The move comes after the Federal Government earlier this year ordered Australia's competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), to develop a code of conduct governing the commercial dealings between Australian news media companies and tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

At the end of July the ACCC released a draft version of the code, proposing that Facebook and Google would pay news media organisations to publish their content.

When the consultation period finished at the end of August, Facebook released a statement.

"Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram," said the tech giant. "Australia ... misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect."

Australians receive nearly 40% of their general news, and nearly 50% of the COVID-19 news from Facebook. According to Facebook, this amounted to 2.3 billion clicks on Australian news items in the first five months of 2020, totalling $200 million in earnings for local media organisations.

Australia's Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wasn't impressed by Facebook's response and accused them of making "heavy-handed threats".

"We won't be bullied, no matter how big the international company is, no matter how powerful they are, no matter how valuable they are," said Mr. Frydenberg. "We're committed to these reforms."

The ACCC also responded: "Facebook’s threat today to prevent any sharing of news on its services in Australia is ill-timed and misconceived. (It) already pays some media for news content. The code simply aims to bring fairness and transparency to Facebook and Google’s relationships with Australian news media businesses."

While Facebook waited until the end of the consultation period to let its feeling be known, Google expressed its views in mid-August, releasing an open letter to Australians warning that they could expect "dramatically worse" services if the tech giant was made to pay for Australian news content.

"A proposed law ... would force us to provide you with a dramatically worse Google Search and YouTube, could lead to your data being handed over to big news businesses, and would put the free services you use at risk in Australia," stated the letter. "The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of news media businesses over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business."

With public consultation on the code now closed, the Government is considering the feedback. The proposed code of conduct could be law by the end of the year, making it a world first and giving other countries something to think about.

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