Australia: Facebook has ‘tentatively friended’ us again

Australian PM Scott Morrison says his government is again in talks with tech giant as standoff results in decline of traffic to country’s news sites.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms fell from the day before the ban by about 13 percent within the country [File: AAP Image/Lukas Coch/Reuters]

Facebook Inc is back at the negotiating table, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday after the tech giant this week blocked news on its site in the country.

Facebook’s abrupt decision to stop Australians from sharing news on the site and strip the pages of domestic and foreign news outlets also erased several state government and emergency department accounts, causing widespread anger.

The company has “tentatively friended us again”, Morrison told a news conference in Sydney.

“What I’m pleased about is that Facebook is back at the table again.”

Facebook has publicly indicated no change in its opposition to a proposed law requiring social media platforms to pay for links to news content. Morrison was not asked about that.

Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Friday he had spoken with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and further talks were expected over the weekend. It was not clear whether those talks have happened.

A Facebook spokeswoman and representatives for Frydenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Standoff with Zuckerberg

The standoff comes as Australia promises to press ahead with the landmark legislation, which could set a global precedent as countries like Canada express interest in taking similar action.

The Australian law, which would force Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to reach commercial deals with Australian publishers or face compulsory arbitration, has cleared the lower house of Parliament and is expected to be passed by the Senate within the next week.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s director of policy for the Asia-Pacific region, was quoted on Saturday as telling the Sydney Morning Herald the company had three main objections to the legislation.

Facebook logo is seen on a Desktop (Photo by Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Australia’s legislation on social media is being widely watched overseas for possible precedent [File: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Facebook objects to being barred from discriminating between different news outlets that ask for money, to arbitration models that allow an independent body to select one payment over another, and to the obligation to enter commercial negotiations with Australian media companies, Milner said.

Facebook declined to make Milner available to speak with the Reuters news agency.

Australia’s legislation is being widely watched overseas.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said on Thursday his country would adopt the Australian approach as it crafts its own legislation in the coming months.

Google, which had initially threatened to close its search engine in Australia, has announced a host of preemptive licensing deals over the past week, including a global agreement with News Corp.

Facebook’s move had an immediate impact on traffic to Australian news sites, according to early data from the New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat.

Total traffic to the Australian news sites from various platforms fell from the day before the ban by about 13 percent within the country.

Source: Reuters