The Australians are reacting to Fb’s information ban

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

David Mariuz | Pool | Getty Images

Facebook users in Australia have slowly come to terms with the fact that they can no longer receive their daily news updates on the platform.

In a snap decision announced on Wednesday, the social media giant stated that publishers and Australian users are no longer allowed to share and display news content on their website.

The move was a direct response to Australia’s proposed “New Media Code” which would force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers the right to link to their content in news feeds or search results.

Google announced a major deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp on Wednesday, but Facebook has chosen the nuclear option, according to Peter Lewis, director of the Center for Responsible Technology at Think Tank Australia Institute.

How the residents reacted

Facebook’s actions have divided opinion across the country, with some indifferent and others angry. The hashtag #deletefacebook was popular on Twitter on Thursday in Australia.

In removing news pages from its platform, Facebook also accidentally pulled up pages for dozens of charities, government health organizations, small businesses, and a weather agency.

Fred Azis-Laranjo from Sydney told CNBC that he believed that Facebook’s decision would “backfire on a massive scale” and that it would cause Facebook to lose fans and customers in Australia.

“It is going to upset and annoy a large group of the population who get their messages from their Facebook news feed,” he said.

“In the long run, I think it is a good thing if more people are encouraged to be more proactive in their search for news. This likely means they will be exposed to a wider range of opinions and also benefit established news organizations against niche players.”

Another Sydney local Josh Gadsby told CNBC that he cares, and he thinks most other people in Australia do too. According to Gadsby, Facebook has exacerbated the situation by banning non-news sites.

“After working for the Financial Times for several years, I saw the impact Facebook and Google were having on advertising revenues for traditional publishers, and I think it’s reasonable to expect them to pay to get content from publishers to use, “he said.

“Even so, there are two sides to the story, and there is some negative press here that this is being pushed by the government because they are in Murdoch’s pocket,” added Gadsby.

Gadsby believes Facebook should have negotiated a deal with publishers. “It will be interesting to see what your next move is so personal. I think the ban is unlikely to last,” he said.

The timing of the decision upset some people.

Natasha Kinrade, who works in sales for corporate events firm Cliftons in Sydney, told CNBC that “it seems wrong for them to ban messages and notifications, especially during Covid times,” pointing out that Facebook is sometimes the best and fastest place to get accurate updates during an event such as a terrorist attack.

John Henderson, a venture capitalist at AirTree Ventures in Sydney, told CNBC he was concerned about the societal consequences of the disappearance of legitimate Facebook news sources. “Surely it just makes room for journalism with less integrity and more false news,” he said.

Joe Daunt, a senior video editor at A Cloud Guru in Melbourne, told CNBC that he hoped people would see less false news and misinformation when they search for their messages beyond Facebook. “I think it’s a good move to be honest,” he said.

Jon Gore, who is in Byron Bay, New South Wales, told CNBC that he didn’t really care.

“I don’t go to Facebook for news or anything these days,” he said, adding that he felt he had to do a lot of source checking when checking messages on Facebook.

“I’m not interested in sensational stories. I get frustrated and don’t actively click links when they have leading clickbait titles.”

Gore said many of the charities and small businesses are likely to run into problems after their pages are removed from Facebook. “There are some places that use Facebook instead of a specific website,” he said.

Carly Gower, who works at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, told CNBC that the proposed media law made no sense to her. “Why should media companies get paid for content they voluntarily post on Facebook?” She said. “The ban is a tough answer, but justified for the big media companies that wanted the new laws.”

A Facebook spokesman told CNBC that the company will lift some of the bans.

“The measures we are taking are aimed at preventing publishers and people in Australia from sharing or displaying Australian and international news content,” said a company spokesman.

“Since the law does not provide clear guidelines for defining news content, we have made a comprehensive definition in order to respect the law as amended. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently affected.”

The political point of view

While some citizens aren’t upset, Australia’s leaders are angry on Facebook.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Facebook’s actions were “as arrogant as they were disappointing,” while Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook was wrong to move the way it was.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary,” said Frydenberg at a press conference on Thursday. “You have been persistent and will damage your reputation here in Australia.”

“Your decision to block Australians’ access to government pages – whether because of pandemic support, mental health, emergency services or the Bureau of Meteorology – had nothing to do with the media code, which has not yet been passed by the Senate” he added Frydenberg.

In a tweet early Friday morning local time, the treasurer said he had another conversation with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Data from research firm Statista shows that 62% of Australians get their news from television, compared to 52% from social media.

Paul Colgan, a Sydney-based director of CT Group, a global policy research and strategy company, told CNBC that many Australians use Facebook to gather information.

However, he said his company’s research has found “widespread recognition in the community that global technology companies have become very powerful, often to the detriment of Australian companies.”

Colgan added, “Removing sources of information, including health pages and weather updates, is certainly impractical, but finding substitutes really only requires a few thumb movements and is not difficult.”

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