Facebook today stopped Australian users and publishers from sharing or viewing news content in a stunning response to the Australian government’s attempt to make the tech giant pay publishers for news content.

The Facebook pages of Australia’s biggest news publishers are now essentially bare for local users after Facebook stripped the content overnight. Users are reporting being unable to post, share or even see stories from Australian publishers on the world’s biggest social media platform.

Some Australian users report they can still access the content. But several non news pages appear to have been blocked too, including the Bureau of Meteorology, emergency service pages and union organisations.

The social network’s stance is in sharp contrast to Google which this week has been peeling off a series of deals with local media companies such as Nine and Seven. Google and News Corp also came to terms overnight, with the Guardian and the ABC expected to announce their deals soon.

The government is playing down the significance of the move, although that’s hard to square with the fact that the Treasurer of the country was on the phone negotiating with the CEO of the company this morning.

Josh Frydenberg on Twitter this morning indicated negotiations are ongoing. “This morning, I had a constructive discussion with Mark Zuckerberg from #Facebook. He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward.”

Not bluffing

Facebook has previously threatened to restrict access for Australian users and publishers in response to the government’s News Media Bargaining Laws. The world-first media laws – currently being debated in parliament but believed to have bipartisan support – would force Facebook into arbitration with Australian publishers if they can not agree on revenue sharing deals in good faith.

Facebook claims the proposed laws are unworkable. In a blog post today Facebook Australia and New Zealand’s managing director Will Easton said,” The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. 

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

The changes mean Australian publishers are prevented from sharing or posting any content on Facebook Pages. Publishers will still have access to Facebook’s data and advertising services. International publishers will still be able to post content but it will not be accessible to Australian users.

Australian users can no longer view or share  Australian or international news content on Facebook. International users can view or share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news Pages.

Publisher’s response

A spokesperson for Nine said the publisher is disappointed in Facebook’s decision which would stop it from sharing quality news and lead to further misinformation on the platform.

“This action proves again their monopoly position and unreasonable behaviour,” the spokesperson said this morning.

“But today’s statement does not mean Facebook will not have to abide by the Federal Governments proposed code. Value has already been transferred and Facebook has benefited from our content for many years. We should be able to access their monopoly platform and have the right to monetise our content as a result.

“We have been negotiating with Facebook in good faith and we remain willing to do a deal with them that provides a mutually beneficial outcome and ensures quality information is available to all Australians on their platform.”

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