The social network Facebook deliberately blocked the pages of the Australian government and emergency services during negotiations on national laws on payment for links to news.
In early 2021, Australia negotiated with Facebook and Google a News Media Bargaining Code, which required both companies to pay local newspapers for links to their content. Google has challenged the Code and inserted a link to the documents detailing the objections on the main page.
In turn, Facebook has declared that the Code is so inoperable that the company will be forced to stop publishing links to news in Australia. They illustrated this by preventing Australians from publishing such links.
However, Facebook has also taken away the opportunity to share links from organizations such as charities or the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to strengthen its position in the negotiations, according to Wall Street Journal report.
The report cites internal documents where Facebook staff apologized for blocking more than just news sites. It also became known that the legal team and the Facebook policy team advised that the blockade was “excessive”. When staff noticed that sites outside the scheduled blockade remained inaccessible on the platform, their rights were slowly restored.
Excessive blocking and unhurried response show that Facebook wanted to make sure their actions had sufficient influence – and that the Australian government noted the strength of the social network. However, the actions had the opposite effect. Politicians have suggested that it is the manifestation of brute force that demonstrates the need for stronger regulation of Facebook. This position finds great public support.
However, the government has changed the draft law so that Facebook and Google are no longer forced to negotiate with the media. Both parties agreed to this change and the project became law.
Facebook staff say the company considers the talks a success – and that the blockade has helped achieve the goal. At the same time, Facebook denies that it used blocking as a tactic in negotiations.