In surprise move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia

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A disclaimer is shown on the bottom of Australia's Bureau of Meteorology page on the Facebook app Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021, in Tokyo. Australia's government has condemned Facebook over its shock move to prevent Australians sharing news that had also blocked some government communications. The Bureau of Meteorology's weather warnings, a Hobart women's shelter and the Betoota Advocate, a satirical website named after an Australian ghost town, were among those surprised to find their content blocked at least temporarily. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

CANBERRA – In a surprise retaliatory move Thursday, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news stories, escalating a fight with the government over whether powerful tech companies should have to pay news organizations for content.

Australia's government condemned the step, which also blocked some government communications, including messages about emergency services, and some commercial pages.

The digital platforms fear that what's happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent for other countries as governments revamp laws to catch up with the fast changing digital world.

Facebook acted after the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it and Google pay for Australian journalism, said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. He said he was given no warning before Facebook acted. The legislation must be passed by the Senate to become law.

Australian news organizations could not post stories and people who tried to share existing news stories got notifications saying they were blocked from doing so .

“This post can't be shared," the website said. “In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted."

The legislation mentioned by the notice has not yet been enacted.

“Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg said.