Facebook plans to cut off your news-sharing abilities

Facebook, everyone’s favorite surveillance corporation, has some bad news for its Australian users: soon you may not be able to share news articles with your virtual friends. That’s straight from the donkey’s mouth, the donkey in this case being Will Easton (managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand).

Easton issued the threat in a blog post. The post was penned in response to legislation proposed by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), which would require Facebook and Google to pay news companies whose content is shared on the platforms. I was on my way back from getting some truck quotes when I first heard about this proposal, and I have to say I really like it.

Under the proposed rules, publishers would be allowed to directly negotiate with the tech monopolies regarding compensation. If a deal isn’t reached in three months, the case goes to arbitration where it is settled in 45 business days.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims explained the commission’s motives in the following terms:

“There is a fundamental bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and the major digital platforms, partly because news businesses have no option but to deal with the platforms, and have had little ability to negotiate over payment for their content or other issues.

“We wanted a model that would address this bargaining power imbalance and result in fair payment for content, which avoided unproductive and drawn-out negotiations, and wouldn’t reduce the availability of Australian news on Google and Facebook.”

That managed to ruffle Facebook’s feathers, because God forbid they pay for the content they reproduce and profit off of. In FB’s view, the ACCC “misunderstands the dynamics of the internet and will do damage to the very news organisations the government is trying to protect.”

That’s what Easton wrote in his blog post, which accuses the commission of having “ignored important facts” before dropping the big one:

“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. This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

Easton goes on to claim that Facebook invests “millions of dollars” in Australian news publishers and is prepared to “invest millions more.” But seeing as Facebook’s 2019 revenue was $70.7 billion USD, investing a few million bucks doesn’t seem all that generous.