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Facebook Blocks News in Australia Over Proposed Media Compensation Law

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  • Australian leaders condemned Facebook on Thursday after it blocked all Australians from sharing domestic and international news on the platform and prevented all global users from sharing news by Australian publishers.
  • Facebook also wiped the pages of state health departments and emergency services that provide resources amid the pandemic and the ongoing fire season, though it later restored those systems.
  • The move comes as Australia prepares to pass a law that would require large tech companies to pay media organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
  • Facebook and Google have long fought against the legislation, but Google shifted its stance Thursday, saying it entered a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content.

Facebook Escalates Battle With Australia

Facebook took the unprecedented step Thursday of blocking news access on the platform in Australia – a drastic escalation of a battle over a proposed regulatory law in the country.

Under the legislation, which is expected to pass in the next week, tech giants would be required to negotiate compensation with news organizations for the content that appears on their platforms.

Those who support the law argue that traditional media organizations have been steadily declining while big companies like Facebook and Google, which have become major distributors of news, continue to make billions of dollars from digital advertising. As a result, proponents believe that these companies have a responsibility to help support news organizations whose content they profit off of by driving traffic to the sites.

Facebook and Google, however, have fought hard against the law. They have said it is unworkable for a number of reasons and claimed it would incentivize the news organizations to jack up prices during negotiations.

Now that is all but certain Australia will approve the law soon, Facebook has reinforced its opposition efforts. Not only does Facebook’s current ban block Australians from sharing both domestic and international news sources on the platform, but it also prevents all Australian publishers from being seen on Facebook everywhere else in the world.

The ban also goes beyond the news. According to reports, pages for state health departments were also wiped clean just three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination program. Emergency services were also taken out, including the Bureau of Meteorology, which has been providing essential weather data in the middle of fire season.

Pages for nonprofits and charities were also taken away, meanwhile, groups dedicated to spreading conspiracy theories about vaccines, 5G, Bill Gates, and the end of the world remained up.

Facebook, for its part, blamed the disappearances on the proposed legislation.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a spokesperson told reporters, though the company eventually agreed to revive the public service pages.

Facebook Slammed By Politicians

Facebook’s decision to ban all news in Australia — especially the blocking of essential service accounts — sparked outrage from leaders in the country.

Many politicians condemned Facebook for preventing access to health information in a pandemic and censoring news.

“The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services… who have had their Facebook pages blocked, that’s a public safety issue,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher told the Associated Press.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also took aim at Facebook in a post on the platform. 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said. “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.”

Morrison went on to say that the government would not back down and urged Facebook to work constructively with them like Google, which has taken the opposite approach.

Google Strikes Deal With Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

Shortly before Facebook imposed its block, Google announced that it had made a three-year agreement to pay Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. for its content in Australia as well as the U.S. and the U.K.

The search engine — which just a weeks ago threatened to make its products unavailable in Australia over the proposed law— has since changed its mind and instead struck several multimillion-dollar deals with other Australian publishers.

While many praised Google for its approach, some media watchdog groups are worried that these deals will only further the ability of large tech companies make news organizations beholden to them.

Others have also expressed concern over Google’s deal with Murdoch, who has been lobbying the Australian government to push tech companies to pay news organizations for years, and who The New York Times described as “quite cozy with Australia’s conservative government.” 

At the same time, other industry leaders have said this will be a net good for journalism and likely a model for other countries, including Microsoft, whose president wrote a blog post last week arguing that the U.S. should enact similar legislation.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Meta Reinstates Trump on Facebook and Instagram

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The company, which banned the former president two years ago for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection, now says the risk to public safety has “sufficiently receded.” 


Meta Ends Suspension

Meta announced Wednesday that it will reinstate the Facebook and Instagram accounts of former President Donald Trump, just two years after he was banned for using the platforms to incite a violent insurrection.

In a blog post, the company said the suspensions would be lifted “in the coming weeks” but with “new guardrails in place to deter repeat offenses.”

Specifically, Meta stated that due to Trump’s violations of its Community Standards, he will face “heightened penalties for repeat offenses” under new protocols for “public figures whose accounts are reinstated from suspensions related to civil unrest.”

“In the event that Mr. Trump posts further violating content, the content will be removed and he will be suspended for between one month and two years, depending on the severity of the violation,” the blog post continued.

The company also noted its updated protocols address content that doesn’t violate its Community Standards but “contributes to the sort of risk that materialized on January 6, such as content that delegitimizes an upcoming election or is related to QAnon.”

However, unlike direct violations, that content would have its distribution limited, but it would not be taken down. As a penalty for repeat offenses, Meta says it “may temporarily restrict access to […] advertising tools.”

As far as why the company is doing this, it explained that it assessed whether or not to extend the “unprecedented” two-year suspension it placed on Trump back in January of 2021 and determined that the risk to public safety had “sufficiently receded.”

Meta also argued that social media is “rooted in the belief that open debate and the free flow of ideas are important values” and it does not want to “get in the way of open, public and democratic debate.”

“The public should be able to hear what their politicians are saying — the good, the bad and the ugly — so that they can make informed choices at the ballot box,” the tech giant added.

Response

Meta’s decision prompted widespread backlash from many people who argue the former president has clearly not learned from the past because he continues to share lies about the election, conspiracy theories, and other incendiary language on Truth Social.

“Trump incited an insurrection. And tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Ca.) tweeted. “He’s shown no remorse. No contrition. Giving him back access to a social media platform to spread his lies and demagoguery is dangerous. @facebook caved, giving him a platform to do more harm.”

According to estimates last month by the advocacy groups Accountable Tech and Media Matters for America, over 350 of Trump’s posts on the platform would have explicitly violated Facebook’s policies against QAnon content, election claims, and harassment of marginalized groups.

“Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to reinstate Trump’s accounts is a prime example of putting profits above people’s safety,”  NAACP President Derrick Johnson told NPR

“It’s quite astonishing that one can spew hatred, fuel conspiracies, and incite a violent insurrection at our nation’s Capitol building, and Mark Zuckerberg still believes that is not enough to remove someone from his platforms.”

However, on the other side, many conservatives and Trump supporters have cheered the move as a win for free speech.

Others, like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Oh.) also asserted that Trump “shouldn’t have been banned in the first place. Can’t happen again.”

Trump himself echoed that point on in a post on Truth Social, where he claimed Facebook has lost billions of dollars both removing and reinstating him.

Such a thing should never again happen to a sitting President, or anybody else who is not deserving of retribution! THANK YOU TO TRUTH SOCIAL FOR DOING SUCH AN INCREDIBLE JOB. YOUR GROWTH IS OUTSTANDING, AND FUTURE UNLIMITED!!!” he continued. 

The question that remains, however, is whether Trump will actually go back to Facebook or Instagram. As many have noted, the two were never his main platforms. Twitter was always been his preferred outlet, and while Elon Musk reinstated his account some time ago, he has not been posting on the site.

There is also the question of how Truth Social — which Trump created and put millions of dollars into — would survive if he went back to Meta’s platforms. The company is already struggling financially, and as Axios notes, if Trump moves back, it signals to investors that he is not confident in the company.

On the other hand, Trump’s lawyers formally petitioned Meta to reinstate him, which could indicate that this goes beyond just a symbolic win and is something he actually wants. Additionally, if he were to start engaging on Facebook and Instagram again, it would immediately give him access to his over 57 million followers across the two platforms while he continues his 2024 presidential campaign.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Axios) (The New York Times)

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Meta Encouraged to Change Nudity Policy in Potential Win For Free The Nipple Movement

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The company’s oversight board said Meta’s current rules are too confusing to follow, and new guidelines should be developed to “respect international human rights standards.”


Rules Based in “A Binary View of Gender”

In a move many have described as a big step for Free The Nipple advocates, Meta’s oversight board released a decision Tuesday encouraging the company to modify its nudity and sexual activity policies so that social media users are treated “without discrimination on the basis of sex or gender.”

The board—which consists of lawyers, journalists, and academics—said the parent company of Facebook and Instagram should change its guidelines “so that it is governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards.”

Its decision came after a transgender and nonbinary couple had two different posts removed for alleged violations of Meta’s Sexual Solicitation Community Standard. Both posts included images of the couple bare-chested with their nipples covered along with captions discussing transgender healthcare, as they were fundraising for one of them to undergo top surgery.

Both posts, one from 2021 and another from 2022, were taken down after users reported it and Meta’s own automated system flagged it. The posts were restored after an appeal, but the oversight board stated that their initial removal highlights faults in the company’s policies. 

“Removing these posts is not in line with Meta’s Community Standards, values or human rights responsibilities,” the board said in its decision, 

According to the board, Meta’s sexual solicitation policy is too broad and creates confusion for social media users. The board also said the policy is “based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies.

“Such an approach makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale,” the decision continued. 

Free the Nipple Movement

The board stated that the rules get especially confusing regarding female nipples, “particularly as they apply to transgender and non-binary people.”

While there are exceptions to Meta’s rules, including posts in medical or health contexts, the board said that these exceptions are “often convoluted and poorly defined.” 

“The lack of clarity inherent in this policy creates uncertainty for users and reviewers, and makes it unworkable in practice,” the decision said. 

The board’s recommended that Meta change how it manages nudity on its platforms. The group also requested that Meta provide more details regarding what content specifically violates its Sexual Solicitation Community Standard. 

For over a decade, Meta’s nudity policies have been condemned by many activists and users for strictly censoring female bodies. The Free the Nipple movement was created to combat rules that prevent users from sharing images of a bare female chest, but still allow men to freely post topless photos of themselves. 

Big names including Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and Florence Pugh have advocated for Free the Nipple.
Meta now has 60 days to respond to the board’s recommendations. In a statement to the New York Post, a spokesperson for the company said Meta is “constantly evaluating our policies to help make our platforms safer for everyone.”

See What Others Are Saying: (Mashable) (The New York Post) (Oversight Committee Decision)

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Amazon Labor Union Receives Official Union Certification

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The company already plans to appeal the decision.


Amazon Labor Union’s Victory 

The National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday certified the Amazon Labor Union (ALU) Staten Island election from April, despite Amazon’s objections. 

After Staten Island staffers won the vote to unionize by 500 votes in the spring of 2022, Amazon quickly filed a slew of objections, claiming that the ALU had improperly influenced the election. Amazon pushed for the results to be overturned. 

Now, the National Labor Relations Board has dismissed Amazon’s allegations and certified the election. This certification gives legitimacy to the ALU and puts Amazon in a position to be penalized should they decide not to bargain with the union in good faith. 

“We’re demanding that Amazon now, after certification, meet and bargain with us,” ALU attorney Seth Goldstein said to Motherboard regarding the certification. “We’re demanding bargaining, and if we need to, we’re going to move to get a court order enforcing our bargaining rights. It’s outrageous that they’ve been violating federal labor while they continue to do so.”

Negotiate or Appeal 

Amazon has until Jan. 25 to begin bargaining with the ALU, or the online retailer can appeal the decision by the same deadline. The company has already announced its plan to appeal. 

“As we’ve said since the beginning, we don’t believe this election process was fair, legitimate, or representative of the majority of what our team wants,” Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel, said in a statement.

This win comes after two recent defeats in ALU’s unionization efforts. The union lost an election at a facility in Albany and another in Staten Island. 

ALU’s director Chris Smalls told Yahoo! Finance that he is unconcerned about these losses.

“For us, whatever campaign is ready to go, the Amazon Labor Union is going to throw their support behind it, no matter what…We know that it’s going to take collective action for Amazon to come to the table,” he told the outlet. “So, for us, it’s never unsuccessful. These are growing pains, and we’re going to fight and continue to grow.”

See what others are saying: (Vice) (NPR) (Bloomberg)

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