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Big Tech: Facebook faces friction in Australia

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Following a clash between Facebook and Australia, where Facebook blocked news content to Australians due to a proposed law which would require the company to pay publishers for content, the ban has since been reversed. 

The Big Tech giant retaliated to the Australian government’s new internet code which would build a fairer line of negotiation between tech companies and news publishers. 

The action taken by the Australian government is indirectly also a way to make tech companies more accountable and transparent in their operations. 

But, since the two have engaged in talks following the ban, they have managed to reach an agreement, where amendments would be made to the law. One of the amendments includes the Australian government refraining from applying the new internet ‘code’ to Facebook, on the condition that it can demonstrate its support to local journalism and media publishers. 

Facebook had argued that in reality they gain little commercially from news content. But, the action taken by the Australian government has shed light on the potential role which Facebook could have in supporting public services especially given the wider context of the pandemic, and perceptions of public health regarding the vaccine. Facebook has pledged to increase its expenditure to publishers, paying $1bn over the course of the next three years.

The recent activity in Australia has raised eyebrows elsewhere in the world, with the UK Culture secretary, Oliver Dowden commenting that “recent events have strengthened my view that we do not have properly functioning digital markets”. It is ambiguous as to what kind of role Facebook desires to, or should assume, and this is beginning to cause friction against national expectations for the responsibility of tech giants. 

Facebook made a statement on February 22nd, “after further discussions, we are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about following commercial deals that recognise the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them”. It will be interesting to see whether other nations follow suit and readdress their relationships with Big Tech. It will require redrawing the boundaries, which for so long have been part of the inherent nature of the internet. 

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