The Sun: Nick Clegg faces call to RESIGN over Facebook’s Aussie news ban as MPs blast site’s ‘staggering lack of respect’

The Sun: Nick Clegg faces call to RESIGN over Facebook’s Aussie news ban as MPs blast site’s ‘staggering lack of respect’

Article by Imogen Braddick for The Sun - published 18 February 2021

Nick Clegg has been called to resign over Facebook's Aussie news ban after MPs blasted the site's "staggering lack of respect" for democracy.

The former Deputy Prime Minister, who became the tech giant's communications chief in 2018, has come under fire after the extraordinary move to block news feeds on the platform Down Under.

It means "international" publishers can continue to publish news content on Facebook, but links and posts cannot be viewed or shared by Australian audiences.

Facebook took the position in response to a proposed law compelling tech giants to pay for journalism.

Julian Knight, Conservative chairman of the digital, culture, sport and media select committee, said: "If I was Nick Clegg, I would be doing more than appearing in videos saying 'I'm sorry', I would really consider my position at this point.

"This action by Facebook shows a staggering lack of respect for democratic processes.”

He added: "These bully-boy tactics are absolutely crass and irresponsible, particularly at a time of global pandemic when people need trusted news sources.

"It's Australia first, who will be next?"

Damian Collins, Tory MP for Folkestone & Hythe, described Facebook’s news ban as the “ultimate act of greed and bad faith”.

He told the Times: “Everyone who believes a thriving news media is essential to democracy should care about this fight.

“If Australia wins, other governments will follow. Nick Clegg has chosen his side, and demonstrated that he now believes in Facebook more than he does in liberal democracy.”

The Lib Dems, Clegg's old party, also slammed the move by Facebook.

Jamie Stone, the party’s spokesman on culture and media, said: “What is in effect a move to muzzle the voice of a democratically elected government international corporation is entirely wrong.

"It is ultimately up to Nick Clegg to be accountable to what he does and believes.”

Meanwhile outraged users have begun to boycott the site, with hashtags like #DeleteFacebook and #BoycottZuckerberg becoming popular.

Flocks of users have also posted farewell messages on their pages before deleting their accounts.

Videos of tutorials titled "How to delete Facebook account permanently" have been shared widely and others have shared screenshots of their account deactivation notifications.

The brazen decision to "unfriend Australia" has been slammed as "disgraceful" by politicians in Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would not be "intimidated" by the brazen move by the tech giant.

"Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing," Morrison posted on Facebook.

"These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.

"They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.

"We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton slammed the "arrogant" move and also claimed Facebook was creating the "perfect" platform for paedophiles.

He told Daily Mail Australia: "Facebook's arrogance isn't restricted to their decision to ban Australian news.

"Their push for end-to-end encryption will make it easier for paedophiles to share child sexual exploitation material."

End-to-end encryption - already used by WhatsApp - means only the people communicating can see their messages.

Dutton said he fears that thousands of paedophiles will never be caught under the new secret messaging system.

"I think it's a complete outrage. I think there is a moral obligation on people like Mark Zuckerberg to step up and do the right thing," he said.

"At the moment they're facilitating these criminals, these networks, these organised criminal syndicates who are exploiting and destroying the lives of young children and we need to call it out."

A Facebook spokesman told Daily Mail Australia it has "zero tolerance" for behaviour which exploits children.

"We work closely with law enforcement agencies in Australia and around the world to report and remove harmful content," he said.

"Facebook leads the industry in combating child abuse online and we'll continue to do so on our private messaging services."

Facebook's move to ban news on its platform in Australia comes as politicians are considering forcing digital businesses to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies.

The draft legislation being looked at could create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

On Wednesday, William Easton, managing director at Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said the "proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content".

"It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia," Easton said.

"With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter."

Amnesty International described Facebook's decision to block news sites as "extremely concerning".

Tim O’Connor, Amnesty International Australia campaigner, said: "It is extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on.

"Facebook’s action starkly demonstrates why allowing one company to exert such dominant power over our information ecosystem threatens human rights.

"It’s alarming that community support groups, emergency services and charities have had their content blocked."

He added: "Facebook’s willingness to block credible news sources also stands in sharp distinction to the company’s poor track record in addressing the spread of hateful content and disinformation on the platform."

Even Stephen Scheeler, former boss of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, accused the social media giant of trying to "bully and intimidate" the country.

Deals have been done elsewhere to enable search engines to pay media companies for news, as Australian politicians debated amended legislation to create the code.

It comes after Rupert Murdoch's News Corp announced a global agreement with tech giant Google that will see them pay for stories.

The ground-breaking deal by the ultimate owner of The Sun and The Times will see the media company contribute to Google News Showcase, an update to its news search platform.

Easton said Facebook and other US technology businesses like Google have "fundamentally different relationships with news".

"Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content," he said.

"On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue."

Last year Facebook generated around 5.1 billion "free referrals" to Australian publishers, Mr Easton claimed, worth an estimated £227 million.

He said the social media giant receives a "minimal" business gain from news, which makes up less than 4 percent of content users see on their news feed.

"Journalism is important to a democratic society, which is why we build dedicated, free tools to support news organisations around the world in innovating their content for online audiences," he said.

Mr Easton claimed the proposed legislation seeks to "penalise" Facebook for "content it didn't take or ask for".

He said the company is prepared to launch Facebook News in Australia to "significantly increase our investments with local publishers", but would only do so "with the right rules in place".

Copyright 2021 Damian Collins. All rights reserved

Promoted by Stephen James for and on behalf of Damian Collins, both of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association both at 4 West Cliff Gardens, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1SP


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