Social media giant shows off power but could see backlash18th February 2021
Facebook issued statements on Thursday morning saying it did not intend to catch community organisations and government departments in its ban, and was starting to restore some pages.
QUT digital media expert Axel Bruns said the move by Facebook was a negotiating tactic in its ongoing pushback to the federal government’s new laws which would force social media giants to pay for news content.
But Professor Bruns said the social media giant might have overplayed its hand.
“It’s deeply problematic that government information about the pandemic might be impeded by this ban,” he said.
“It seems as if they’ve simply blocked all sites which meet certain criteria, but that criteria isn’t particularly sophisticated.
“These sites may be sharing ‘news’ in the broadest sense, but they are not news sites and are not meant to be covered by the bargaining code.”
Professor Bruns said he did not expect the ban to be permanent, but said it showed Facebook was not afraid to flex its considerable muscle.
“It’s a bold play – on the one hand it puts extra pressure on the government to try to resolve this, because it’s a big deal if Australian news can no longer circulate on the major platform that people use in this country,” he said.
“On the other hand, it demonstrates the power that Facebook has, and the impact of any change on how Australians access the news and what kind of news people are seeing.”
Griffith University technology expert David Tuffley said Facebook could experience a backlash from regular users over the move, although it was too early to tell the long-term ramifications.
“They may well find that Australian consumers are quite happy to look elsewhere for information they were getting through Facebook,” Dr Tuffley said.
Google was also threatening to block access to some of its services to Australians due to the media code, but recently announced deals with individual media companies under its “Google News Showcase”.
Dr Tuffley said he would not be surprised if Facebook was planning something similar.
“Google proposed that about a year ago, and had it in its back pocket as a way to find a solution without losing face,” he said.
“Companies dealing at this level have skilful negotiators on the job, and I suspect Facebook has a solution which we don’t know about yet which it can trot out as a way forward.”
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.