Australia’s health department will no longer advertise on Facebook, it has announced, the latest escalation of the government’s feud with the social media giant over a new law that is designed to force the technology giants to pay for the news content on their platforms.
The freeze follows Facebook’s decision to block all Australian news content on its platform and as Australia steps up its COVID-19 vaccination roll out with a nearly $20m public information blitz designed to counter conspiracy theories aimed at boosting uptake and countering a flood of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday his department would still pay to promote the vaccine campaign, just not on Facebook.
“All of our funds will be used,” said Hunt. “We will continue to post on that particular channel, we just won’t be boosting.”
Australia’s government is locked in an acrimonious dispute with Facebook over the new law, which is scheduled for debate in the upper house on Monday. The government has indicated that there will be no further amendments to the legislation after Facebook on Thursday blacked out news pages, as well as – for a period of time – those of essential services and government departments.
“The bill as it stands … meets the right balance,” Simon Birmingham, Australia’s Minister for Finance, told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
The bill in its present form ensures “Australian-generated news content by Australian-generated news organisations can and should be paid for and done so in a fair and legitimate way”.
Under the law, the government would have the right to appoint an arbitrator to set content licensing fees in the event that private negotiations failed.
While Google and Facebook have campaigned against the laws, Google last week signed deals with top Australian outlets, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which dominates the media in Australia and the United Kingdom.
“There’s no reason Facebook can’t do and achieve what Google already has,” Birmingham added.
The law is expected to be finalised in parliament this week and Facebook is believed to still be in talks with Australian media companies and the government.
The country began its vaccination drive on Sunday with Jane Malysiak, an aged care resident and World War II survivor in her 80s, first in line.
The programme will be expanded this week to cover front-line health care workers and other officials.