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A long-simmering battle between tech firms and the government of Australia became explosive yesterday when Facebook announced that it would block all linking of news publications inside the country. Not only has this change affected Australian and international news publishers, but Facebook's wide net has also caught up governments, nonprofits, and basically anyone else in Australia who posts non-news content to the platform.
Australian lawmakers have been considering a bill that would require Internet platforms such as Google and Facebook ("digital platform corporations") to negotiate in good faith with news outlets ("registered news business corporations") to link to their content. If the outlets and the platforms can't reach a deal on their own, they would have to go to baseball-style arbitration, where a neutral third-party arbitrator would decide whose offer is the better one.
The bill would at first apply to only two companies: Google and Facebook. Both, as you might expect, have expressed consistent opposition to the bill. (Microsoft, operator of remote second-place search engine Bing—which captures between 2 and 3 percent of the market—does not oppose the rules that would apply to its largest competitor.)
After months of complaint, Facebook took the nuclear option on Wednesday, blocking all Australian users from sharing links either from Australian or international sources and blocking everyone else in the world from sharing any links to any Australian news sources.
At a high level, the dispute is not unlike the cable blackouts US consumers are all too used to experiencing. When two parties can't agree, each one points the finger at the other and tells consumers to blame the other guy for the inconvenience. Meanwhile, consumers are stuck in the middle, facing all the harm. And when the fight is between the world's largest online platforms and an entire country, the stakes are high.
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