Facebook has threatened to ban all news content in Australia to avoid paying publishers. This is what it will mean for you.
Facebook has threatened to ban all news content in Australia to avoid paying publishers. This is what it will mean for you.

What Facebook’s threat means for you

What you're allowed to see on Facebook could be about to change.

That's because the social network recently named as the biggest source of misinformation during a pandemic is threatening to embark on a new fact-free diet.

No more verified news articles, no more fact-checked analysis, no more professionally written updates about what's happening in your suburb, your state, your country, or even the world.

No, Facebook is threatening to ban all news content from view in Australia; demonstrating exactly how much Mark Zuckerberg's team cares about their users, the information they see, the information they spread, who influences them, and the democratic benefit of a functioning news media.

What could possibly go wrong?

Facebook announced its decision, which some have called "the nuclear option," this morning in response to an Australian proposal that it and Google share some of the advertising revenue they make from news content created and funded by others.

After an 18-month investigation into the issue, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission found Facebook and Google had become giant monopolies in the online ad market, scooping up billions of dollars in Australia each year while news outlets - from your local paper to big TV networks - had no option but to work with them.

This report was released in July last year, along with 23 recommendations, so progress on addressing the competitive imbalance hasn't exactly been speedy and cannot have come as a big shock to Facebook.

In fact, the multibillion-dollar company had months to negotiate a voluntary deal with Australian news organisations earlier this year and made so little progress, and offered so little to them, that the Government stepped in to make a news code mandatory.

Facebook today responded by threatening to throw all the news out of its pram.

What will this mean for you? If it happens, Facebook will no longer allow you to share any news content on its platform - no links to news stories, no paragraphs copied from articles, no photos snapped by media outlets, no footage from TV bulletins.

You will not be able to share this content from Australian outlets, nor will you be able to use international media to get around the ban.

And it's not clear just how far this ban will extend. Will Facebook shut down its own fact-checking efforts from being seen in Australia? Will it delete all past news posts on its platform, removing your old conversations? Will it shut out journalists altogether?

In announcing this threat, Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director Will Easton said the company's "products and services in Australia that allow family and friends to connect will not be impacted by this decision".

Personally, I think Australians stand a better chance of visiting Disneyland this week than being unaffected by Facebook's news ban.

The tech giant also claims news content on its platform "represents a fraction" of what people see on its site, and "is not a significant source of revenue".

But the ACCC's Digital Platforms report showed online sites had "become the primary source of news" for almost half the Australian population, and nine in 10 Aussies using digital platforms consumed news online every month.

And then there's the problem of misinformation and disinformation on Facebook, which even it acknowledges is a major issue.

So many deeply damaging conspiracy theories and fallacies - from fake coronavirus cures and anti-vaxxing recruitment to blaming mobile phone signals for virus outbreaks - circulate and spread rampantly on Facebook. And that's in addition to proven issues with foreign political interference in democratic elections.

Without credible news sources to balance the din, Facebook is digging a grave with this move, for Australians and itself.

Originally published as What Facebook's threat means for you

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