Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Facebook Blocks News Sites in Australia: Corporate Giants Control the News

Today Facebook blocked all news sites from Australia. This is a result of a battle between media corporations. But independent media are suffering. We are republishing this article from the Australian socialist newspaper Red Flag which currently cannot be shared on Facebook.

Daniel Taylor

February 18, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
Photo: Andrew Harrer/ Bloomberg News

This article originally appeared in Red Flag on February 18, 2021

This morning was a shocking wake-up call for anyone who cares about free speech on the internet. Facebook—still Australia’s most widely used social networking platform—banned Australian users from accessing or sharing any news content at all, while deleting all the content posted by any news outlets (or suspected news outlets). The mainstream media and politicians were caught flat-footed, and have been beating the drum about foreign billionaires who won’t pay a fair price for Aussie content.

This development is scary, but not because any heroic local media corporations are being bullied by Yankee tech giants. It’s a shocking reminder of how the commercialisation of the internet can lead to sweeping censorship. And while that dark trend accelerates, Australia’s political class isn’t worried about defending free speech or democracy—they’re only worried about propping up the profit margins of their allies in the corporate media. If we want to defend our right to communicate freely, we’ll have to do it ourselves.

You might be interested in: The “Social Dilemma” of Capitalism in Decline

For those of us involved in publishing independent media, it was a pretty unpleasant way to be woken up. Red Flag’s Facebook page is still its most popular social media account—or it was, until it was disappeared at dawn, along with a swathe of non-profit advocacy groups and information outlets, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Bureau of Meteorology. (Most of the non-profits have been restored, but the independent journalism outfits are still mostly offline, including Red Flag.)

Any Australian Facebook user who tries to post a link to a news story gets an error message, even if you’re posting in, say, a private Facebook group devoted to refugee rights activism, and you try posting a news story about a development in an important legal case. So one of the most important, widely used, and universally accessible platforms for political discussion has banned an entire continent from using it to access, distribute or discuss journalism. In this case, it’s not because of a political crackdown. It’s because of a dispute between two sets of reprehensible corporate behemoths: the tech giants like Google and Facebook, and the vile Australian corporate media, who are used to being cosseted by Australian governments.

Australia’s media has been deregulated over and over again in the interest of a few bloated conglomerates, leading to one of the world’s most notoriously concentrated, low-quality, and right-wing media landscapes, of which Rupert Murdoch is only the most globally infamous spawn. Here in Australia, we also have to deal with specimens like Kerry Stokes, the billionaire boss of the Channel 7 empire; he’s also a big mining and construction-equipment capitalist, and he’s recently taken up a side-gig in defending, promoting and hiring alleged child-killing war criminals.

Australia’s media barons have spent decades promoting climate denial, racism, and right-wing politics generally, while expecting all of Australia’s media regulations to be tailored to their commercial interests—which they mostly are. Now that their own business models are failing, they want the government to force America’s equally evil, but arguably more terrifying, tech giants to pay Australian news companies a fee. It’s a pretty self-evidently absurd rent-seeking proposal: Australia’s media corporations demand access to the social media platforms and Google’s search engines, but then insist that the platforms pay them for the privilege of displaying the content.

But Facebook’s response—shutting down Australian news completely and with no course of appeal—reveals the terrible reality of the contemporary internet: it’s a space more and more dominated by corporate interests, where communication happens only to the extent that it satisfies shareholders and advertisers.

The early internet had something of the air of an academic conference, partly because most of its users were, indeed, academics. E-mail lists, usenet groups, IRC and other platforms were non-commercial. They weren’t designed to display embedded ads based on algorithmic consumer analysis. They were just ways to communicate. But as the profit-generating potential of instantaneous global communication has been mined for decades, the online ecosystem has been transformed. Now the most widely used platforms are dominated by massive corporations, each trying to wall off its own section of the internet and shape the content to its own commercial needs.

The tech giants’ recent campaign against “fake news” led a few hypocritical right-wingers to make a legitimate point. After Twitter began censoring articles about Joe Biden’s son, Ted Cruz interrogated Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in a congressional hearing: “Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear?” It’s a good question. The social media corporations are unelected and unaccountable except to their capitalist owners. But there’s another problem: the mainstream media outlets are equally undemocratic and unaccountable, and so is every other corporation in modern global capitalism. And between them, they now dominate an indispensable communications technology with enormous democratic potential.

As part of its commercial fight in Australia, Facebook has banned the news for now. But before that, it was already restricting the reach of political content, throttling the output of “extremist” publishers, introducing politically biased algorithms, and summarily banning anarchists and socialists—in part, because it was trying to ingratiate itself with the US political establishment. There was no way for users to democratically resist or overturn these decisions. And before social media came along, the traditional media outlets were well known to be corporate propaganda outfits. Some hoped that the development of the internet would disintegrate the corporate control of ideas and information, but the censorious, commercialised nature of today’s social media proves the limits of that as long as capitalist decision-making governs technology.

And in that context, demanding the capitalist state take over the social media outfits isn’t enough. After all, Australia’s capitalist state has nurtured Murdoch and Stokes, while the US capitalist state is pressuring Facebook to censor radical politics. It’s hard to imagine that a version of Facebook run by the US and Australian governments, with the technology supplied by the NSA and ASIO, would be a great improvement on what we have now.

Radicals are going to have to take seriously the challenges of organising to disseminate and discuss information using diverse technological platforms. (And make sure you’re subscribed to our print edition and our email list, and follow our Instagram and our Twitter.) But we’re also going to have to fight like hell against every act of censorship we face. And we’re going to keep facing them, as long as the demands of profit-making, capitalist competition and authoritarian right-wing politics decide who can say what, and who’s allowed to hear it.

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

The Tide Is Turning: New Yorkers Are Speaking Out for Palestinian Liberation

New York's anti-zionist movement is is rising up and speaking out for Palestinian liberation.

Ana Orozco

February 23, 2024
Protesters at the University of Michigan holding Palestine flags and a big banner that reads "DIVEST."

University of Michigan Faculty Senate Approves Divestment Resolution

The University of Michigan Faculty Senate recently passed a measure calling for divestment from companies investing in Israel's attacks on Gaza. Will the university’s capitalist bosses change course and support democratic demands to stop funding genocide?

Ryan McCarty

February 4, 2024

If Palestinian Lives Matter, the UAW Should Not Endorse Biden

The UAW bureaucracy is meeting in Washington DC, where they are discussing, among other things, whether to endorse Joe Biden for president. If the UAW cares about its own call for a ceasefire in Gaza, it should refuse to endorse Biden (as well as Trump).

Daniel Nath

January 23, 2024
Scenic sunset over the Mediterranean Sea

Yearning Waves: A Palestinian’s Tale of Dreams and the Stolen Sea

A Palestinian shares his pain and sadness over the hoops he must jump through in order to experience his own land.


Three activists stand together while one activist holds up an "uncommitted" sign with the word "vote" written on it many times. In the left side of the picture another activist holds a sign that says "abandon Genocide Joe"

Don’t Vote Uncommitted — Commit to Breaking with the Democrats

Tapping into deep anger with President Biden, the left wing of the Democratic Party is urging Michigan voters to vote “uncommitted” in the primary election. But this strategy funnels progressives’ energy back into the Democratic party when we need political independence from the parties supporting the genocide in Gaza.

Brian H. Silverstein

February 27, 2024
Protesters at an evening protest in NY carry a sign that reads "from ferguson to palestine occupation is a crime"

This Black History Month, Let’s Fight for Palestinian Liberation

Black liberation struggles have always expressed solidarity with the struggle against the Zionist occupation of Palestine. This Black History Month, as Israel continues its genocide in Gaza, this tradition takes on a special importance.

Carmin Maffea

February 26, 2024
All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: Two Years of War in Ukraine

On this episode of the podcast, we discuss the war in Ukraine after two years, and the continued need for an independent, working-class solution.

Left Voice

February 24, 2024

The Organic Crisis in 2024: This Year’s Election Is a Battle for the Hearts and Minds of U.S. Workers

The battle between Trump and Biden is being shaped by a crisis of the political regime, requiring the intervention of both the judiciary and the union bureaucracy. The battle for the presidency is a battle for the working class and a battle over which approach to imperialism is best for competing with China and reestablishing US hegemony. As usual, the Democrats are taking up the cudgel of democratic rights in order to rally disaffected voters.

Sybil Davis

February 23, 2024