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25 February, 2021

Face off over Facebook

American social media giant Facebook flexed its muscle last week when it decided to ban the hosting of and sharing of news content on its platform.

By Phil Brandel

Express Newspaper Editor and Owner Carl Portella who said the Facebook ban won’t stop him distributing free community news.

American social media giant Facebook flexed its muscle last week when it decided to ban the hosting of and sharing of news content on its platform.

Most small and large new organisations were impacted including small community-run newspapers all the way up to the multinational news corporations.

This also included some innocent bystanders being removed from the platform Including The Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland Health, DV (domestic violence) Connect and several schools across Far North Queensland, most of these were restores within about 48 hours.

Locally The Start-up and Innovation Tablelands Facebook page was also taken down.

The news ban comes after 3 years of negotiations between Facebook and the Federal government, who acting on behalf of the news organisations is trying to legislate that Facebook must pay to use the news organisations content on their platform.

The Express Newspaperwas also caught up in the spat with Editor Carl Portella pointing out that our news has always been free. “We have been supplying free news on our website and in our papers for over 10 years now,” he said.

“We are more like a community service than a multinational profit-making entity.

“We can’t tell what the future holds, but our website is still free and updated regularly and we will continue to publish and giveaway our newspaper as we have always done.”

Mr Portella also said there had been innocent victims in the current Facebook storm.

“There have been innocent businesses caught up in this reaction who have nothing to do with news, including Queensland Health in the middle of a pandemic and the BOM in the middle of cyclone season, Facebook needs to take another look at their algorithm.”

In a statement Facebook said 14 million Australians connect on Facebook every day.

“We are proud of the role we have in building Australian communities and growing their businesses. 

“Unfortunately, in response to Australia's proposed News Media Bargaining Code legislation, Facebook will have to restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook.

“People outside of Australia also cannot view or share Australian news content or content from Australian news Pages on Facebook. 

“This is not the outcome we wanted and it's a step we take reluctantly. The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.

This discussion has focused on U.S. technology companies and how they benefit from news content on their services. We understand many will ask why the platforms may respond differently. The answer is because our platforms have fundamentally different relationships with news. Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content. On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.

Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimated AU$407 million. Despite some of these discussions, Facebook does not steal, take or copy news content.

The proposed law ignores these investments and the real value we provide to news organisations. The proposed law is written in a way that means we have to treat all publishers the same: if one publisher is out, it requires that all publishers must also be out, even if they are happy with the benefits they receive from Facebook. 

The changes affecting news content - which constitutes less than 4 per cent of content shared on Facebook - will not otherwise change Facebook's products and services in Australia.  We want to assure the millions of Australians using Facebook to connect with friends and family, grow their business and join Groups to help support their local communities, that these services will not change. 

We hope that in the future the Australian Government will recognise the value we already provide and help us to strengthen, rather than limit, our partnerships with publishers.

KENNEDY MP, Bob Katter says Facebook's dummy-spit’ over proposed Federal Government laws that would make them pay for news, is a golden opportunity for Australia to build its own social media platform.

Mr Katter admits it may take time for Australians to migrate to a new platform, but it would have ongoing benefits for democracy and sovereignty.

“This is an opportunity to build something by creating an Australia social media platform, like Facebook, and we should not be held to ransom by a jumped-up, super-rich, American know-all,” he said.

“In Queensland, we built and owned the railways, the electricity network and we built the coal industry, the aluminium industry and the tourism industry.”

Mr Katter is a supporter of making the tech giants pay for news as most of the newspapers in the Kennedy Electorate have closed in the last decade.

“Without a news service, without a local media, the town ceases to exist,” he said.

“I say the American tech-giants should leave town immediately. We will run our own affairs thank you. An Australian-owned social media would restore the power of the Australian media.”

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