Meta to block Facebook news content in Australia over licensing fee issue

Sydney: Facebook owner Meta is considering blocking news content from the platform in Australia if the government makes it pay licensing fees, a company representative told a parliamentary hearing on Friday.

Meta’s regional policy director Mia Garlick told lawmakers “all options are on the table” when asked if the company would block Australians from sharing news content to avoid paying fees.

“There’s a large number of channels that people can get news content from,” Garlick told the inquiry.

She said Meta was waiting for Canberra to decide if it would apply an untested 2021 law which gives the government the right to set the fees U.S. tech giants pay media outlets for links.

The comments are the strongest indication so far that Meta would take the same hardline approach in Australia it took in Canada in 2023 when that country introduced similar laws.

Meta struck deals with Australian media firms including News Corp and the Australian Broadcasting Corp when the law was brought in Australia, but has since said it will not renew those arrangements beyond 2024.

It now falls on Australia’s assistant treasurer to decide whether to step in and force Facebook to pay for news content. The assistant treasurer has said he is still collecting advice but that Meta seems to respect the law only when it suits.

Asked if blocking news from Facebook in Australia would amount to sidestepping the law, Garlick said taking that action would be complying with it.

“Every other law – tax laws, safety laws, privacy laws – we work to comply with,” she said. “It’s just compliance would look slightly different in relation to this law if it’s fully enacted.”

Garlick defended Meta’s processes for Australians to complain if they believed the company was spreading harmful misinformation or scams, although she said its content moderation centres were all in other countries.

Asked about Australian mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, who is suing Meta for showing cryptocurrency scam advertisements featuring his face, Garlick said the company had processes in place to detect and stop scams, but “there are a lot of challenges”.

How could Meta call itself an advertising business when “some ads sell lies”, asked Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

“We have policies and systems and tools to do everything we can to prevent those ads,” Garlick replied.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)

Disclaimer: This report is auto generated from the Reuters news service. ThePrint holds no responsibilty for its content.

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