Facebook’s extraordinary move is churlish response

 

Facebook has declared itself a social misinformation platform in Australia while clinging to the assertion that it's a news publisher elsewhere in the world.

From yesterday, Australians can no longer receive news from local media organisations via Facebook, and people overseas are blocked from sharing Australian content via Facebook.

The broad brush Facebook has applied to its decision means that information services such as the Bureau of Meteorology, community health groups, unions and Indigenous health services are impacted. Facebook has removed these organisations from its platform.

Facebook's move is a churlish response to a proposed new Australian law to make big tech pay media companies for the news they get from media and information organisations. In contrast, Google has signed agreements with big and small Australian publishers to pay.

 

It's an extraordinary move from the US-based company which has repeatedly cited its need to respect the First Amendment and support free speech and free flow of information. After being slow or inadequate to act on fake news, right-wing extremism and child exploitation, Facebook has been swift to act on its free access to news.

The move puts Australia squarely at the centre of a global battleground for a war on free speech, as governments around the world try to curb big-tech power.

But it's not all bad news.

Only a tiny number of the 14 million Australians who connect on Facebook say they use it to access news, and those who do have a fairly low opinion of Facebook's "news''.

In 2020, University of Canberra researchers reported that trust in news on social media is much lower than news accessed directly from a news organisation. Australians are also using Facebook less to access news - in Australia it has fallen from 45 per cent of news consumers in 2016 to 39 per cent in 2020.

 

We may see news and information providers hosting their own social conversations (comments) with interested audiences, instead of outsourcing to Facebook with its various spy devices.

Australia is in a better position than other countries as we can access free information on two trusted public service broadcasters: the ABC and SBS. But the move by Facebook should remind anyone who cares about news and verifiable information that the best action is to subscribe (and pay a small amount) for one or perhaps two trusted news services. Free news is bad news. Hearing someone say "I read it on FB" is now as credible as "I heard it from my aunt's sister's cousin who works in a government office".

Alexandra Wake is Head of Journalism at RMIT University

Originally published as Facebook's extraordinary move is churlish response


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