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Australia facepalms as Facebook blocks bookstores, sport, health services instead of just news

Reg writer on the spot reports that life without news links on The Social Network™ is just fine

Facebook is being flayed in Australia after its ban on sharing of links to news publications caught plenty of websites that have nothing to do with news.

The Social Network™ announced its ban with a blog post and the sudden erasure of all posts on certain Facebook pages.

Links to news outlets big and small (including The Register) are currently impossible to post to Facebook from within Australia. Australian Facebook users don’t see news links posted from outside the nation.

Which is as Facebook intended to show its displeasure with Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, a newly legislated scheme that forces Facebook to negotiate payments with local news publishers for the privilege of linking to their content.

But when Facebook implemented its ban, an online bookstore, charities, and even a domestic violence support service saw their Facebook presences erased. Australia’s national Basketball and Rugby bodies also saw their pages sent to the sin bin.

Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today ... were arrogant and disappointing

Facebook said that the breadth of its blocks is regrettable, but as Australia’s law “does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”

This leaves Facebook in the interesting position of telling advertisers it offers superior micro-targeting services, while telling the world it is unable to tell the difference between a newspaper and a bookshop.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison used Facebook to say “Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing.”

panicked eye with Facebook logo reflected on surface

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While Australia facepalms at Facebook’s clumsiness, publishers and politicians around the world have expressed dismay that Facebook has banned news and, by doing so, again demonstrated its ability to shape public discourse.

That Facebook’s contribution to public conversations has so often been to infuse them with misinformation, then promise to do better by ensuring that higher-quality content such as public interest journalism becomes more prominent, has not gone unnoticed.

No news isn’t terrible news

Having woken up to a news-free Facebook, your Australia-based correspondent can report that that sky has not fallen in and it remains possible to be well-informed and entertained down under. Every newspaper in the land led with Facebook’s decision. And even though those stories aren’t on Facebook, the news made it out and my Facebook feed is full of debate about Facebook.

Some of my friends’ feeds now feature a sprinkling of shared screenshots from local news outlets, as a workaround of the ban. Comments on those screenshots suggest they’re not a sustainable replacement for news links.

I’ve seen other complaining that they liked Facebook as a news aggregator and miss that aspect of its service but will instead visit actual media websites even if that’s a bit fiddly.

Publishers have swung into action with email newsletter subscription promotions, or ads reminding readers that they operate apps.

Within my social bubble, the social network is generally considered to have gone too far, too fast, even if Australia’s media code is an imperfect instrument.

Murmurs of boycotts or account deletion have not risen to unusual levels.

Meanwhile, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and the rest still carry news links, and it’s almost Beer O’clock at the start of a muggy late summer weekend on which a largely-COVID-free Australia offers many diversions far more entertaining than doomscrolling through, or debating, the foibles of Facebook. ®

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