Australia: Facebook has made us a “temporary friend” again | Social Media News

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was in talks again with the tech giant as the standoff leads to a drop in traffic to news sites across the country.

Facebook Inc is back at the negotiating table, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday after the tech giant blocked information on its site in the country this week.

Facebook’s abrupt decision to block Australians from sharing information on the site and to remove domestic and overseas media pages also wiped out several state government and emergency services accounts, sparking widespread anger.

The company has “tentatively joined us as friends”, Morrison told a news conference in Sydney.

“What I’m happy about is that Facebook is back at the table.”

Facebook has not publicly indicated any change in its opposition to a bill requiring social media platforms to pay for links to news content. Morrison was not asked about it.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Friday he had spoken with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and that further talks were expected over the weekend. It was unclear whether those talks had taken place.

A Facebook spokeswoman and representatives for Frydenberg did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Arm wrestling with Zuckerberg

The standoff comes as Australia promises to advance landmark legislation, which could set a global precedent as countries like Canada express interest in taking similar action.

The Australian law, which would force Alphabet Inc’s Facebook and Google to enter into business deals with Australian publishers or face binding arbitration, has cleared the lower house of parliament and is expected to pass the Senate within the next week.

Simon Milner, Facebook’s policy director for the Asia-Pacific region, was quoted on Saturday as telling the Sydney Morning Herald that the company had three main objections to the legislation.

Australian social media legislation is widely watched overseas for possible precedent [File: Nasir Kachroo/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Facebook opposes banning discrimination between different news outlets asking for money, arbitration models that allow an independent body to choose one payment over another, and obligation to enter into commercial negotiations with Australian media companies, Milner said.

Facebook declined to make Milner available to speak with Reuters news agency.

Australian legislation is widely watched overseas.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Thursday that his country would take Australia’s approach as it develops its own legislation in the coming months.

Google, which initially threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia, announced a series of preemptive licensing deals over the past week, including a global deal with News Corp.

Facebook’s decision had an immediate impact on traffic to Australian news sites, according to early data from New York-based analytics firm Chartbeat.

Total traffic to Australian news sites from various platforms has fallen by around 13% in the country since the day before the ban.