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Facebook Takes A Hard Line Against Proposed Australian Law

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Facebook has abruptly cut off news to and from a continent. Facebook is blocking users in Australia from sharing or reading news stories. There are several parts to this. Australian publishers cannot post links to their own stories. Ordinary citizens in Australia cannot post links to any news stories. And, in fact, people anywhere in the world cannot post news stories that come out of Australia. The decision shocked Australian news outlets.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: In a huge change for social media in Australia, Facebook has blocked news content from being shared on its platform from today...

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Facebook has taken the stunning step of banning Australian users and publishers from viewing or sharing news articles on its website.

INSKEEP: What's going on here? We've called NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. And before we begin, we should note that Facebook is a financial supporter of NPR, but we cover them like any other company. Shannon, good morning.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What caused Facebook's move?

BOND: Well, Australia is weighing this proposed law that would force tech companies like Facebook to pay big publishers for linking to their stories. This law is trying to address this long-running criticism from media companies, you know, that Facebook and Google, which is also an NPR sponsor, you know, these big tech platforms have just sucked up so much of the advertising revenue. You know, media outlets around the world have these concerns, that that's really hurt the news business. News websites just can't compete for advertising with the tech giants, which are so big, so dominant and, of course, are an important channel to readers.

INSKEEP: I just want to note, you're telling me the law is not even law yet. It's something that's on its way to becoming law. And so it's almost a kind of negotiating tactic or lobbying effort that Facebook has said we're going to cut you off now.

BOND: Right. I mean, this fight has been brewing for months. This proposal is expected to become law soon. And, you know, Facebook is just saying it's not going to play with the rules Australia is setting, which would require platforms to reach deals with publishers to pay for content. Facebook says this law, quote, "fundamentally misunderstands" its relationship with news outlets. You know, its view is that news outlets choose to post on Facebook, and ultimately publishers benefit more than Facebook does. And we should say that as this has rolled out, Facebook has acted pretty broadly in terms of blocking things. Some Australian government pages, including a fire and rescue agency, even the weather service, had their posts swiped yesterday. Even Facebook's own Facebook page was blank in Australia. Facebook says it's restoring these pages that have gotten inadvertently caught in the filters.

INSKEEP: Is Facebook's response any different than other companies that might be affected by a rule requiring payment in order to post links?

BOND: Well, right. So the other company sort of in the crosshairs here is Google, which has taken a very different approach. So Google had previously also threatened to shut down in Australia. It's now reached deals with several big publishers there. Most notably, it announced a three-year global deal with News Corp, which owns The Wall Street Journal, as well as several Australian papers. I say that's notable because News Corp is run by Rupert Murdoch. He is Australian. He's a powerful force in media and politics there. He's been lobbying for years for the tech companies to pay for news content, and he has thrown his considerable support behind this law.

INSKEEP: Wants his companies to be paid. Any chance of a law like this in the United States?

BOND: Well, I think that's the big concern here and why we're seeing Facebook act like this. You know, it doesn't want to capitulate in Australia, fearing that could set a precedent elsewhere. And we've heard from lawmakers in Canada and Europe who say they're open to this approach. You know, just last week, another U.S. tech giant, Microsoft, said it supports a version of the Australian law in the U.S. And I think there is concern that this is something that we could see here. But, you know, even if it's just in Australia, this has big consequences when it comes to misinformation. We know that's a big problem for Facebook. You know, it's talked about promoting accurate information, but now people in Australia can't post, you know, reputable news stories to counter false claims.

INSKEEP: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond, thanks.

BOND: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.