Facebook threatens to block news distribution in Australia

FILE - This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Beginning Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 U.S. Facebook users who post about voting may start seeing an addendum to their messages -- labels directing readers to authoritative information about the upcoming presidential election. It's the social network's latest step to to combat election-related misinformation on its platform as the Nov. 3 election nears  one in which many voters may be submitting ballots by mail for the first time. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
FILE - This July 16, 2013 file photo shows a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Beginning Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 U.S. Facebook users who post about voting may start seeing an addendum to their messages -- labels directing readers to authoritative information about the upcoming presidential election. It's the social network's latest step to to combat election-related misinformation on its platform as the Nov. 3 election nears one in which many voters may be submitting ballots by mail for the first time. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Facebook threatened to block Australian publishers and individuals from sharing news stories on its platform in reaction to an Australian measure that could require it to compensate media organizations for its use of their stories.

The social network said the Australian move would force it to pay arbitrary and theoretically unlimited sums for information that makes up only a small fraction of its service.

The measure would force Facebook to choose between “either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits,” the company's managing director for Australia and New Zealand, Will Easton, wrote in a blog post. “No business can operate that way.”

Campbell Brown, a former NBC and CNN anchor who is Facebook's vice president of global news partnerships, said the cutoff threat “has nothing to do with our ongoing global commitment to journalism.” Brown's post, which cited a variety of individual Facebook programs intended to support news organizations, was titled “Our Continued Commitment to Journalism.”

The threat came after a consultation period on the draft law ended last week and the Australian government gets to work on its final wording.

Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher declined to say whether he thought Facebook would make good on its threat.

“It's far from unprecedented for big tech companies to make heavy-handed threats,” Fletcher said.

“We will continue with our thorough and careful process, our public policy process, based upon the facts, based upon giving all stakeholders the chance to put their views,” he added.