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Facebook is making a power move in Australia – and may regret it

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The Zuckerbergs flex here shows how it can disrupt global news access in a heartbeat, “said Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and professor at Syracuse University.” No company should have so much influence in accessing journalism.

The Facebook move means people in Australia can no longer post links to news stories on Facebook. Meanwhile, outside Australia, no one can post links to Aussie news sources such as the Sydney Morning Herald.

Facebook said the proposed law ignores the realities of its relationship with publishers who use its service to spread their stories around the world. Technology and media experts have also raised serious concerns. Timothy Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, told an Australian Senate committee in January that the law precedent could ultimately disrupt the internet by demanding payments for connections that have always been free.

The law has not entered into force. Negotiations between tech companies, the Australian government and the country’s media giants, in particular, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp may result in changes to the final version.

However, what cannot be changed is Facebook’s dramatic attempt, if given by hand, to force the issue. The company gave no warning of its decision to block Australian news and enforced the ban so clumsily that it blocked many innocent passersby.

“Since the law does not provide a clear guideline for determining the content of news, we have taken a broad definition in order to comply with the law as drafted,” said Facebook spokeswoman Marie Melguizo, who added that the company would unlock any page. that was accidentally blocked.

Facebook’s reaction was not justified even if there are issues with the law, including the fact that it should benefit media giants like News Corp., said Elizabeth Renieris, director of the Notre Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Laboratory. The emergence of force on Facebook, she said, will really wake up regulators around the world.

If it is not already clear, Facebook is not compatible with democracy, wrote on Twitter Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat who chairs a House subcommittee that has sought antitrust measures against the company. “The threat to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate acceptance of monopoly power.”

On Thursday, Democrats announced they would hold new hearings to curb online platforms and update antitrust laws.

Billions of people around the world rely on Facebook for essential information, not just news, but charity and government sites, emergency announcements and other important channels. The Facebook news cut involved many of them, including humanitarian organizations like Foodbank Australia and Médecins Sans Frontières in Australia, who found their sites temporarily disabled.

The ban affected articles from major international news organizations and small community newspapers or radio stations. These restrictions potentially deprived many Australians of basic Facebook information about COVID-19 or the fire season from a company that billed itself as committed to building connection and community.

The technology company has faced years of criticism for allowing misinformation about politics and the coronavirus in its country. Critics said they feared that removing Australian users of legitimate news sources would only exacerbate the problem.

Playing this game in Australia will fill people with misinformation, said Tama Leaver, an internet studies and social media expert at Curtin University in Australia, during an interview Wednesday with Australian Radio Broadcasting Perth.

But a Facebook without news can also be a more enjoyable experience for many people, said Drew Margolin, a communications professor at Cornell University. Facebook would have been better off if it had given Australians a choice to give up the news, he suggested. If many did, the company could have used it for leverage with government and publishers.

What happens when they say they were ready to turn it on again and we say please do not? he said.

Associated Press writer Amanda Seitz contributed to this story.

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