Facebook 'at war' with Australian government, block users from viewing or sharing news

Facebook has come under fire, after it blocked people from sharing news in Australia.

Leaders around the world have criticised the move and it has caused much alarm over public access to key information.

It comes in response to a proposed law which would make tech giants pay for news content on their platforms.

"It is one of the most idiotic but also deeply disturbing corporate moves of our lifetimes," Julian Knight, the lawmaker who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee in Britain's parliament, told broadcaster Sky News.

Australians on Thursday woke up to find that Facebook pages of all local and global news sites were unavailable.

Several government health and emergency pages were also blocked - something Facebook later said was a mistake.

Facebook and Google have been at loggerheads with publishers for years over how they display their content. Media companies, which have lost out on billions of dollars in advertising revenue to online platforms, argue the tech giants should pay them for showing their content. Defenders of the platforms say they drive huge audiences to news websites at no cost.

Facebook's move came after months of tension with the Australian government over the proposed law, known as the News Media Bargaining Code.

The company believes it gives the government too much power to decide the price that platforms pay for news and which publishers are remunerated. Facebook also argues that the proposed law ignores the value that its services bring to publishers.

Facebook said it helped Australian publishers earn about A$407m (£228m;$316m) last year through referrals, but for itself "the platform gain from news is minimal".

The ban sparked an immediate backlash, with many Australians angry about their sudden loss of access to trusted and authoritative sources.

Several pointed out that Facebook was one crucial way that people received emergency updates about the pandemic and national disaster situations.

Under the ban, Australian publishers are also restricted from sharing or posting any links on their Facebook pages. The national broadcaster, the ABC, and newspapers like The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian have millions of followers.

Human Rights Watch' Australia director said Facebook was censoring the flow of information in the country - calling it a "dangerous turn of events".

"Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable," said Elaine Pearson.

Meanwhile, Google has signed deals with more than 500 publications worldwide since launching News Showcase, a product that gives publishers control over how their content is presented on the platform.

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, said in a statement that it would contribute content to News Showcase from publications including the Wall Street Journal and The Times as part of its deal, in exchange for "significant payments" from Google.