Facebook tentatively agrees to resume talks with Australia after banning country from posting news links

Facebook has tentatively agreed to resume negotiations with Australia after a new proposed law prompted the social media platform to ban news links from being shared on the platform. If passed, the law would make Australia the first country to force internet companies to pay news organizations for their content. Syracuse University assistant professor Jennifer Grygiel joins CBSN to discuss Facebook's response to the law.

Video Transcript

- Facebook tentatively agreed to resume negotiations with the Australian government after abruptly banning news links from being shared on the platform. Officials say they expect Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to continue talks over the weekend. Facebook is responding to a potential new law that would change the relationship between social media platforms and journalism companies. For more, let's bring in Jennifer Grygiel. Jennifer is an associate professor of communication at Syracuse University. Hi there, Jennifer. Thanks very much for being with us. So what led to Facebook's decision to block users from accessing news on its platform in Australia? And how are officials responding to the move?

JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Well, I've really described this as a flex by Mark Zuckerberg. He wasn't required to do so by law yet. It's still being debated there. So I think he was just-- again-- using his position in a market, knowing that people have become dependent on Facebook as a means of getting news, and that the news publishers are really kind of reliant on him as well. So this is-- again-- an attempt to influence the policy before it's even in place.

- I mean, it really was sort of seismic though when we first heard about this. What are the stakes here, Jennifer-- for both news publishers and Facebook?

JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Whatever they end up doing and deciding here-- it's really important to note that a single corporation was able to disrupt the news in a country the size of Australia. I mean, that is just notable. It happened really quickly. And that is just not good for people who rely on news. And so given the interconnectedness, you need to make sure that we don't see this destabilized platform in how people access the news. And also again, this should be a wake up call for any solutions going forward-- that maybe they should not involve yet weaving Facebook even further into the news industry. It's proven to be not a good partner in the past, nor today.

- So what does this proposed law mean for other countries and tech companies like Twitter? Could Australia's move set a precedent?

JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Absolutely. And we should really see this as a global law. So people in other countries can't post links to Australian news either. And then those-- again-- who are in Australia, aren't able to access the Australian news. So again, it's impacting people beyond just Australia. So it's important to realize that. And it really entails what to do about links. And it probably seems a little odd to be paying so much attention to links, especially given that platforms like Instagram with over a billion users doesn't even really use links anymore. Anyone who has seen that link in bio has probably been pretty annoyed.

But it shows that the nature of the web is changing, that there's a lot of ways to make policy. But at core, what we need to do is make sure that the free press-- again, journalists and journalism-- are healthy and that people can access it. And there's a lot of ways to go about doing that. And we should be really cautious about any solution-- even the proposed one by the government there-- that would put Facebook front and center at the distribution channel still. And maybe we should be thinking about how to unwind some of the news industry's relationship with this essentially distributor of news now.

- It's interesting, because as you know Jennifer, Google has agreed to pay news publishers. So why is Facebook not taking the same approach?

JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Yeah. A fundamentally different approach. So search is-- again-- kind of what Google is doing for the news. People look for stuff, and then they are directed to news articles. What you see on Facebook is that the billions of users around the world are posting links in there to news stories, and then they're hosting essentially that content in that post. So it's a different type of platform, and a different type of connection point with the news publishers. The thing we need to remember here-- because a lot of people are debating what are links. They've always been free. Should the news industry be able to bargain with Facebook to negotiate maybe a fee for having that link in there?

But you know, the founder of the worldwide web too had noted, hey links have always been free. But a hyperlink is what he designed. It's what you're showing here in the background, like text with a link under it. The links that are in Facebook are far more complicated. They have a summary, descriptions at times, a thumbnail. What's happening is that there's so much information that a user doesn't have to click out and maybe read the story. So maybe-- not to disrupt progress here-- but maybe not every advance in technology should be made available on Facebook for these users to essentially distribute the news without paying for it in any way, or compensating publishers. So again, looking at the actual technology and how the links have been modernized, and if that's disrupting and causing an industry for the news publishing industry too.

- You know, I wonder if there's any concern that this move blocks people from accessing vital information-- like say, emergency announcements.

JENNIFER GRYGIEL: Yeah. And we saw actually government pages get wrapped up in this too. And again, that highlights some issues with government essentially being promoted, maybe in the same space as the news. Again, the government-- just a reminder to everyone-- is not the free press. So there is risk now also in Australia, that people do not have access to the free press around issues such as COVID, and they only have access to government information now. And that could be an issue too. It has propaganda risks. So again, the free press is essential to be able to hold power to account, to check governments around the world-- here in the United States and abroad.

And again, I'm just really concerned that this rash move by Facebook has really disrupted the access to the news that people have become kind of relying on-- that they've accessed through Facebook, but also that it's allowing for more government information to be unchecked in this news environment-- let alone who knows what else? From misinformation, to fake news, and other issues too. So yeah, there's a lot of risk to the public unfortunately right now.

- All right, Jennifer Grygiel. Jennifer, thank you very much.