An Australian Senator has slammed the government there for agreeing to weaken a new law that would see Facebook have to pay for news content, after the social media site blocked all news, as well as government and emergency service updates in a blatant effort to cause chaos ahead of the vote on the new legislation.
Speaking in parliament, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Green Party declared “The government has buckled here.”
“You’ve blinked, you weakened the power the minister has because Facebook bullied you. This is a face-saving exercise by the Treasurer,” she further announced.
Hanson-Young told the government “We will expect answers in this place as to who has been screwed over by Facebook and Google until you understand that it is your job to look after all players.”
The government changed the bill by inserting a clause that will exempt any social media platform that is deemed to make a ‘significant contribution’ to news.
Critics have charged that this is a blatant loophole inserted in the law to appease Facebook after its actions last week.
Senator Rex Patrick noted that the vagueness of the clause will allow big tech to get away with not paying for content, and will punish smaller media companies.
“We will still in effect have a huge imbalance in power between Facebook, Google and the small players. It undermines the whole bill,” Patrick urged.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union also slammed the government’s actions stating that “It shouldn’t be up to Facebook and Google to cherry pick and groom publishers it deems acceptable for side deals. Any code should be mandatory, uniform, predictable, and fair; not at the whim of technology executives.”
The loophole will allow Facebook to offer different fees to different news organisations for content, and leave out whoever they deem to be unworthy of appearing on the platform, thus defeating the entire point of levelling the playing field.
Google had previously threatened to pull its search engine from Australia altogether, but backed down after negotiating with the Australian government and beginning to agree deals with news companies.
The UK, Canada, EU and US are all considering similar new rules for publishing content, so the Australia case is vital to set an international precedent.
Global media executives have previously warned that big tech is secretively developing and changing algorithms for news distribution without giving the industry any indication whatsoever of what they are doing.
Without regulation, companies like Google and Facebook are able to develop monopolies on news content at the expense of those creating it.