Facebook is threatening to prevent Australian users from sharing news stories on its platform if the government’s planned news media bargaining mechanism – which allows commercial news publishers to seek payment from platforms for the use of their content – becomes law.

The social media and advertising giant today weighed in on the nasty battle between the Australian government and digital platform giants over the planned News Media bargaining code, arguing the solution is counterproductive and would force it to stop Australian users and publishers from sharing news stories on its platforms.

“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” Facebook Australia & New Zealand managing director Will Easton wrote in a blog post today.

“This is not our first choice – it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector.”

The News Media Bargaining Code, developed by the ACCC following its landmark Digital platforms inquiry, was changed from voluntary to mandatory by the government earlier this year when it claimed negotiations had broken down and the impacts of coronavirus on the local media industry worsened.

Under the draft legislation – expected to be introduced to parliament this month – large Australian commercial news publishers will be able to negotiate payment from Facebook and Google if the platform companies use their news content. The Regulator can arbitrate binding decisions and there are significant penalties for breaches.

The code does not cover independent media outlets or public broadcasters, the ABC and SBS, despite the latter relying on advertising revenue.

Google has already railed against the code and last month launched a public campaign against it, seeking to enlist its million of users to challenge the proposed laws. Google’s arguments have been blasted by the ACCC as “misinformation”.

Facebook had until today reserved its public argument against the latest version of the code but has made similar claims that it would ultimately harm journalism in Australia and that news organisations voluntarily use its platform to boost their reach.

“We share the Australian Government’s goal of supporting struggling news organisations, particularly local newspapers, and have engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that has led the effort. But its solution is counterproductive to that goal,” Easton writes. 

“The proposed law is unprecedented in its reach and seeks to regulate every aspect of how tech companies do business with news publishers. Most perplexing, it would force Facebook to pay news organisations for content that the publishers voluntarily place on our platforms and at a price that ignores the financial value we bring publishers. 

“The ACCC presumes that Facebook benefits most in its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true. News represents a fraction of what people see in their News Feed and is not a significant source of revenue for us.” 

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