Facebook Turns Off News in Australia Amid Government Dispute

Facebook bars Australians from finding or sharing news on its service, a dramatic escalation of a fight with the government over paying local publishers.
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Facebook  (FB) - Get Report has barred Australians from finding or sharing news on its service, a dramatic escalation of a fight with the government over paying local publishers for news.

The social networking company said that people and publishers in Australia will no longer be able to share or see any news from local or international outlets. 

The company's action comes after months of tension with the Australian government, which has proposed legislation that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content. Australia’s Parliament held hearings on the issue last month.

Facebook has blocked access to pages related to government COVID-19 vaccine information and emergency services including details on bush fires, and charities such as Women’s Legal Shelter and Foodbank Australia, according to reports.

Critics were quick to slam Facebook for the move. In a joint statement, Science Technology Australia, the Australian Academy of Science, and the Australian Science Media Centre said that “the move to block content from science organisations risked denying the public access to important scientific and health information.”

“For Facebook to block access to the feeds of trusted science and health organisations in Australia during a pandemic and bushfire season is irresponsible and dangerous,” Misha Schubert, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, a body representing more than 80,000 scientists and technologists, told the Independent.

Alphabet-owned Google  (GOOGL) - Get Report also had threatened to disable its search engine in Australia if forced to pay local publishers for displaying snippets of articles in search results, though the search giant reached a deal this week with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.  (NWSA) - Get Report to pay for articles from the Wall Street Journal and its other newspapers.

Shares of Facebook were down 1.45% at $269.59 in trading on Thursday.

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