JERAA demands Facebook stop blocking Australians from receiving news
February 18, 2021
Facebook must end obstructions to Freedom of Speech and rights to obtain and share information
The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) objects in the strongest terms the move by Facebook to block Australian users from receiving news from news publishers’ pages. JERAA’s executive calls for an immediate and unconditional end to these obstructions.
JERAA expresses concern that this is a barrier to the freedom of speech of Facebook users, most particularly in Australia but around the world. Facebook’s actions prevent Australians from receiving news from Australian news organisations and block people overseas from sharing Australian content on the social media site.
This block applies to all Australian news sites, including public broadcasters, commercial news services, community media and student media. Even the Bureau of Meteorology and official health information and domestic violence services were blocked initially, thus inhibiting the provision of information about major weather events and matters of public health and safety. The blockage has affected many other types of organisations that are not news services, such as unions.
A statement from ABC Managing Director David Anderson on today's decision by Facebook to stop Australian users and publishers sharing news. https://t.co/xJUotEkHFi
— ABC Communications (@ABCMediaComms) February 17, 2021
JERAA’s executive stresses that restrictions on Facebook users’ free speech and ability to obtain or share information should only ever occur when it is necessary to prevent breaches of individual or community rights to block content that may cause harm to public health, safety or well-being.
Facebook has not taken this action to prevent slander, hate speech, breaches of law, vilification, disinformation that could cause public harm, or any other objection based on the damage that circulation of information can cause Facebook users or other members of society. Similarly, Facebook is not blocking users from sharing content that may breach the copyright of news publishers. It is blocking the sharing of all content from these types of services.
JERAA is furthermore concerned that disinformation will flourish on Facebook if the social media service’s users cannot access information from news services.
Facebook’s actions follow attempts by Australia’s Federal Government to design laws that would force Facebook to engage in negotiations with Australian news organisations about payment to publishers for journalism that appears in people’s feeds. Facebook’s action takes place prior to the format of such laws being finalised.
JERAA calls for Facebook to return to fair and reasonable discussions with the Australian Government and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission rather than engage in this obstruction of free flow of information.
JERAA is also concerned that disinformation will flourish on Facebook if the social media service’s users cannot access information from news services.
JERAA is particularly concerned that a United States-based company should engage in this obstruction of speech and free flow of information, given the way in which freedom of speech is considered such a critical cornerstone of US democracy and public life.