Social media news removal an ‘abrogation’ of duty

The plan to start removing traditional media outlets’ news feeds from Facebook and Instagram as of this month was “simply unconscionable”, a government minister said.

The decision by Meta, which owns the platforms, to no longer enter deals to pay Australian news publishers for their content has sparked a huge backlash from the federal government and media outlets.

Yet it is not backing down with plans from this month to remove the Facebook News tab it created in 2019.

Assistant Competition Minister Andrew Leigh slammed the decision as an “abrogation of their responsibility”.

“This is a place that people go to for trusted news. The idea that you would take off trusted news and just allow the ecosystem to be filled with misinformation, disinformation … it’s simply unconscionable,” he told ABC’s RN on Monday.

“It (Meta) should not be treating its consumers in this way.

“It is not too much to ask one of the world’s biggest multinationals to make a modest contribution to the Australian news media in order to keep a highly functioning public debate and people making decisions based on good information.”

Media outlets have argued Facebook unfairly benefits in advertising revenue when links to news articles appear on their platforms.

Meta has been winding back its promotion of news content and says it is because fewer users are accessing news stories.

“The number of people using Facebook News in Australia … dropped by over 80 per cent last year,” Meta said in a statement in February about its plan to “deprecate” the tab for news content.

A Meta spokeswoman said there would be no change to publishers’ ability to use Facebook.

“They can continue to benefit from our free tools and products which they can voluntarily use should they want to,” she said.

“We hope the government sees the many benefits our free services provide to publishers and we’ll continue to engage with them on this topic.”

Asked what could be done to get Meta back to the bargaining table, Mr Leigh said there were penalties under the news media bargaining code which gave tools to the government.

Mr Leigh said he was concerned about the amount of “junk flooding the zone”.

“We know that when you take high quality news out of the space, then it’s the sewer that floods in so we’ve got to do more to make sure that we’re having a discussion which is based on facts,” he said.

“Australia prospers by engaging with the world through strong institutions, and through having careful intellectual debates when we’re confronted with big challenges.

“But the rise of populist politics … all of that is fuelled by a misinformation, disinformation environment.”

Former head of the ACCC Rod Sims described Meta’s move as thumbing its nose at the Australian parliament and said he was concerned about the impact on society.


Tess Ikonomou
(Australian Associated Press)


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