Facebook recently lifted a short-lived restriction for Australian users accessing news content on the social media site, following tensions between the company and Canberra. The Morrison government proposed new legislation that seeks to create more even-handed negotiations between large internet firms and news providers online,
The UK culture minister delivered a stern message of caution to Facebook on Friday over its recent decision to block Australian users from accessing news on its platform.
Oliver Dowden described the move as concerning and said the company was “putting its bottom line above the public interest”. He suggested more stringent regulations on the company could be introduced following a Thursday night meeting with Nick Clegg, the former UK deputy prime minister who now serves as Facebook’s vice-president for communications.
“We must avoid such nuclear options being taken again”, Dowden said in a statement “Tech titans have become the gatekeepers of online knowledge and the custodians of virtual public squares, and the government won’t shy away from intervening to protect the interests of the public when it needs to”.
He said that Facebook’s move to ban news for Australian readers reaffirmed his belief that “we do not have properly functioning digital markets”.
“The UK will be at the forefront of global efforts to address this”, he said.
Dowden noted that policy must permit “proper commercial relationships to be formed” and added that the next G7 summit in Cornwall in June would allow for cooperation with other countries to secure an international agreement on reining in the tech giants.
This follows Clegg criticising his employer for a move that “erred on the side of over-enforcement” when it introduced a temporary ban on content considered to be news in Australia.
He said “some content was blocked inadvertently” government, health, and emergency services communications pages were restricted.
Clegg added, however, that Facebook was “forced into this position” after the Australian government’s attempt to require the social media company to negotiate with news publishers to pay for their posted content.
Tensions have been rising in recent months over legislation which the Australian government says would ensure fair payment for the use of the content of news publishers.
After Canberra announced that a last-minute deal had been arranged between Facebook and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the news ban came to an end.
The spat led to questions about the power of tech companies and the need for regulations in the UK, with the nation’s News Media Association head, Henry Faure Walker, saying last week that Facebook’s actions were reminiscent of a “schoolyard bully”.
“We need jurisdictions across the globe, including the UK, to coordinate to deliver robust regulation to create a truly level playing between the tech giants and news publishers”, Walker said.
While large tech firms claim that their platforms assist news publishers by driving traffic towards smaller news sites, concerns have been raised about the negotiating power of social media giants.
The stated intention of the new legislation is to provide a “fairer” negotiation process between Facebook and smaller content providers who are using the platform.
The government’s regulatory body, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), claims that publishers suffered from limited negotiating power due to their reliance on tech monopolies such as Google and Facebook.
An ACCC investigation into internet advertising dominance discovered that A$49 (£35; €40) of every A$100 (£56; €65) spent by Australian advertisers, went to Google and Facebook in 2018.