Facebook blocks users from sharing news links in Australia

Politicians are set to vote on a bill that would force tech giants to pay for content.

Matt Jelonek via Getty Images

Facebook wasn't kidding around when it threatened to block Australians from viewing news on the social network. It's now preventing publishers and residents from posting or sharing news content. Facebook users elsewhere can't post or share links from Australian publishers either.

In recent months, Facebook rolled out a News tab in the US and the UK, and it's paying publishers in those countries for using their content. Although the company was planning to bring Facebook News to Australia and pay publishers more, it was "only prepared to do this with the right rules in place," according to William Easton, Facebook's managing director for Australia and New Zealand.

"This legislation sets a precedent where the government decides who enters into these news content agreements, and ultimately, how much the party that already receives value from the free service gets paid," Easton wrote in a blog post. "We will now prioritize investments to other countries, as part of our plans to invest in new licensing news programs and experiences."

The company is "using a combination of technologies to restrict news content" under the new policy and it will have measures in place to review any permitted content that it accidentally removed. Australian publishers can no longer share or post anything on their Facebook pages. Australian users won't see links or posts from publishers in other countries. The change won't affect other Facebook products or services in Australia.

The social network announced the updated policy as the country's parliament is set to vote on a bill that would force tech companies to pay publishers. Google has also pledged to shut down Search in the country if the legislation passes, though it struck a deal with News Corp to pay the conglomerate's outlets for their content, including in Australia.

Both Google and Facebook have reportedly taken issue with the legislation's arbitration clauses. If internet companies can't agree deals with publishers, it'd be up to an arbitration panel to determine the payment rates. This week, the government said it would modify the bill to clarify that publishers would be paid in lump sums rather than on a per-click basis. Reports also suggested that, like Google, Facebook was close to striking deals with publishers.

It appears that the policy shift won't affect Facebook's bottom line too much. "News makes up less than four percent of the content people see in their News Feed," Easton wrote. "Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organizations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences."

Easton also noted that Facebook drove around 5.1 billion visits to Australian publishers' sites last year, worth around AU$407 million. Cutting off that distribution channel will undoubtedly hurt publishers, but it will also harm Facebook users in Australia who access news through the social network.