Facebook took an unprecedented step on Wednesday by blocking all news articles from being shared in Australia after a new law was proposed there that would require online platforms to pay news sources for displaying and linking to their work. As a result, when any of the nation’s estimated 11.4 million Facebook users go to the page of a news outlet, they see an empty feed.
The action taken Wednesday is a major escalation between the big online platforms like Facebook and Google and the Australian government as the nation attempts to “address the bargaining-power imbalances with digital platforms and media companies,” as Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said earlier in February. And while Google also took an aggressive stance when the proposal was first introduced in December, the company announced Wednesday that it had reached a revenue-sharing agreement with the Australian giant News Corp. to continue to show its news items in searches. Meanwhile, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, William Easton, said the proposed policy “has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”
For most of its existence, Mark Zuckerberg’s massive social-media network has been reluctant to block political content in the United States and only recently retreated from this approach with a tentative plan to scale back such content in the wake of the Capitol riot — and its indefinite ban of Donald Trump. With the move taken in Australia, Facebook has shown just how massive a change it is willing to make if a precedent-setting financial hit is on the line.