’Couldn’t be worse’: Danger of Facebook ban

The world has reacted to Facebook’s shocking ban on Aussie news with outrage, with one expert revealing why the timing is especially catastrophic.

Australians are waking to the news that Facebook has dramatically banned local news from the popular social media platform.

The tech juggernaut’s shock decision was made in response to a proposed new Media Bargaining law, with the federal government pushing forward with a plan to force social media giants to pay for news content.

But in a lengthy statement shared by the company early this morning Australian time, Facebook revealed that instead, it would bar Australian news sites from sharing content on the platform.

Facebook’s move has prompted many to push for a boycott of the platform, with many slamming the decision as little more than a bullying tactic designed to punish its Australian audience.

It means Australian users can no longer view or share local articles, while international Facebook users are also restricted from seeing Australian news.

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Within moments of the announcement being made public, Australian news sites, high-profile reporters, interest groups and everyday readers alike began voicing their fury.

Professor Julie Leask, a University of Sydney expert from the Faculty of Medicine and Health, said the decision was all the more catastrophic given the current coronavirus crisis.

“The timing couldn’t be worse. Facebook censors anti-vaccination content ‘for public health’ at the same time as restricting user’s access to local news at the start of a vaccine rollout,” Dr Leask said.

“Three days before our COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Australians using Facebook as their primary source of news can no longer get access to credible information about vaccination from news organisations and some government and public health organisation pages.

“This is the very time we rely on people accessing vaccine information easily.”

International media organisations have also reacted to the stunning development, with the BBC, CNBC, the New York Post and the Financial Times just some of the global sites to have reported on the news.

Reset Australia, a global initiative working to counter digital threats to democracy, also condemned the call.

“Facebook blocking news in the middle of a pandemic, when accurate information is a key plank of the public health response really tells you all you need know about how much Zuckerberg cares about Australian society and cohesion,” executive director Chris Cooper said in a statement.

“Facebook is telling Australians that rather than participate meaningfully in regulatory efforts, it would prefer to operate a platform in which real news has been abandoned or de-prioritised, leaving misinformation to fill the void.

“The difference between information and misinformation and the value of the news to the functioning of democracy doesn’t matter to Facebook. Regulation is an inconvenient impost on their immediate profits – and the hostility of their response overwhelmingly confirms regulation is needed.”

He added that Facebook was already rife with misinformation, and that it would likely increase now.

“Social media has supercharged conspiracy theories and misinformation, pushing some people into echo chambers where false information is all they see,” he said.

“The absence of news on the platform will only compound the echo chamber effect.”

News.com.au readers have also shared their outrage over the move, with one labelling the tech behemoth “FaceBully” while another described it as “bullying at its finest”.

Others vowed to boycott the platform, and instead to visit news sites directly.

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“If you needed another reason to shutdown your Facebook account, there it is,” one reader said, while another wrote that “Facebook needs to be held to account for their actions” and another claimed that “we are in the era of censorship and restricted information”.

Some of Australia’s best-known media identities have also weighed in to the scandal.

Meanwhile, attention has started to turn to what Facebook will actually look like without news, with some Australians expressing their horror at boring Facebook feeds filled with fake news, unhinged conspiracy theories and endless pictures of their friends’ brunches and children’s birthday parties.

It was a view voiced by federal MP Rebekha Sharkie on ABC TV today, with the politician claiming the site was fast becoming passe.

“Look, I guess we’re a small market in Australia and I guess Facebook feels that they can flex their muscles,” she said.

“Ultimately, I think they would have to be very careful that they don’t become irrelevant. We can all only look at so many funny cat videos.

“People mainly get their news content from Facebook or other services and I think people will perhaps look at other platforms if Facebook aren’t willing to share.”

And the ban has also impacted non-news platforms, with Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus claiming that Facebook had blocked access to the ACTU website. “We are not a news organisation. Australian workers cannot now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook,” Ms McManus said in a tweet.

“This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately.”

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