Facebook UK users could be hit by news ban if deals fall apart, expert warns

Jamie Harris, PA Science Technology Reporter

News accessed by Facebook’s UK users could be hit by similar bans seen in Australia if current relations between big tech and publishers turn sour in the future, a social media expert has warned.

The tech giant has pulled news content from its platform in Australia, over a new law proposal that compels internet firms to pay news organisations.

It means Australian users and news outlets alike will no longer be allowed to share or read articles via the social network – a move which Facebook said it made with a “heavy heart” because the proposal “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers”.

Matt Navarra, a social media consultant, told the PA news agency that the UK faces “no immediate threat” of similar action because of the launch of Facebook News – an initiative where the firm has paid the likes of Channel 4 News, Daily Mail Group, DC Thomson, Financial Times, Sky News and Telegraph Media Group for content.

Brokering such agreements with publishers in the UK means there is a “stable relationship” for now, but Mr Navarra warns that deals could crumble in the future if one side feels the scheme is no longer worthwhile, especially if other countries like Australia set an example.

He told PA: “Feasibly, in the future, you could argue that these deals will fall apart, that one of the parties, whether its Facebook or published sites, if there’s an imbalance of value exchanged …

“One party (could) feel in terms of precedents set in other countries that the relationship needs to change or the deal needs to change, which could inevitably lead to similar kinds of bans by Facebook if it wanted to dig its heels in the UK – much like it’s shown it can and will be happy to do if similar rules are pushed against it.

“And likewise publishers fight back in terms of how what they do using Facebook as a tool to distribute their content as well.

“So, arguably and we could see bans in the UK and similar kind of actions by Facebook but I think in the short term we’re watching and learning about what others are doing.”

Mr Navarra believes Facebook’s decision is about “sending a clear message” out to other governments and regulators around the world considering similar action.

But he said the social network needs to tread carefully with the spotlight on Facebook’s level of power.

“It’s a very delicate one for Facebook to navigate because, of course, they’re involved in all sorts of other potential hearings soon for anti-trust monopoly stuff and to do with all other areas in business that governments are trying to regulate,” Mr Navarra explained.

“When they’re arguing they’re not a monopoly and that they’re not too powerful as a corporation making big decisions on significant global affairs, you then have an instance where they say, right well we can just switch off news for an entire country like that and nobody in that country can now talk about news, get news, share news and then an industry can be thrown into turmoil in an instant.

“That message, that’s showing people what they can do, it doesn’t really support their argument they’re not a monopoly and they’re not too powerful – so it’s a tricky one.”

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