No news is not good news anymore

Facebook has blocked Australians from accessing local and international news on the platform from today, as negotiations with the Australian Government around a media bargaining code break down.

Roughly 9 million Australians who are daily users of Facebook woke up this morning to blank pages and empty news feeds from news organisations, hospitals, charities and businesses.

Facebook has blocked Australians from accessing local and international news on the platform from today, as negotiations with the Australian Government around a media bargaining code break down.

While news organisations, both large and small, have been deeply affected, the move has had significant unintended consequences on a wide range of industries and organisations who regularly share content and links to news sources on their Facebook pages. Though many of these pages are not categorised as news sites, they have been swept up in the new restrictions.

Non-news organisations like the Peter MacCallum Cancer CentreBureau of Meteorology,The Doherty Institute,St Vincent’s Hospital MelbourneMS Australia and Queensland Health were all affected this morning.

This cohort also included trade publications and medical journals. Many Australian doctors and medical researchers follow journals like The Lancet and BMJ (both of which are blacked out) for daily news on current research, particularly novel findings around COVID-19.

Facebook has stated that this move is in response to the Australian Government’s proposed media bargaining laws and clearly demonstrates the considerable power that one of the world’s largest social media platforms has in the digital economy.

In an official statement released today, Facebook says (that), “for the last three years, Facebook has worked closely with the Australian government on regulation that would help better define the relationships between technology companies and news organizations.”

“What the proposed law introduced in Australia fails to recognize is the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers.”

Facebook is a key communication channel around the world and has been critical in the roll out of information in crises, from announcing public safety messages during bushfires and natural disasters, to communicating the rules of COVID-19 lockdowns and access to vaccines, particularly in remote and vulnerable populations.

Vulnerable communities, particularly those whose first language is not English, rely on their close online community to share relevant news links and provide translation or interpretation of key messages. Facebook’s blackout of Australian news sites, and health and public safety information pages, will create further distance and disadvantage for some of the most vulnerable Australians.

With the sharp mainstreaming of misinformation and conspiracy theories, the importance of being able to disseminate factual and credible information on research and public health information to minority and vulnerable audiences, particularly around the COVID-19 vaccine roll out, should not be understated.

The recent changes will have a significant effect right across Australia as we start to calculate the impact across the life sciences and health industries. We are also yet to understand what impact this may have on disseminating critical information in live time during a natural disaster or major crisis such as the Australian bushfires.

CEO of Opyl, Michelle Gallaher, says “the message is loud and clear that this demonstrates the difficulty in navigating geopolitical boundaries in the global digital economy.”

The unintended consequences are rippling in waves of disbelief and anxiety through the Australian economy this morning. Anyone who has a business model built upon the ability to aggregate news, connect or promote services or products through Facebook are holding their breath today. Some organisations have just had their most valuable digital assets shut down with very little warning.”

For Australian listed companies like Opyl (ASX:OPL), key news sites like Stockhead and Proactive Investors are very important in being able to quickly and accurately communicate with a vast network of investors as announcements are made – a fundamental element of ASX disclosure rules.“

Facebook is yet to make an official announcement on an appeals process but is expected to launch a function for organisations and businesses caught in the crossfire, enabling them to request for page(s) to be assessed. Instagram is likely not going to be impacted by today’s blackout, but chatbots from news sources will.

Opyl believes the changes implemented by Facebook today will likely result in a pendulum effect and we will see some sort of correction by Facebook with accessibility to content and pages on the platform reinstated.

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