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'Bully Boy Action': UK Backs Australia In Facebook Row

Facebook's move to block all news content in Australia is an attempt to bully a democracy and will stiffen the resolve of legislators across the world to get tough with the tech giants, a senior British MP says.

"This action - this bully boy action - that they've undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world," Julian Knight, chair of the British parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, told Reuters.

"We represent people and I'm sorry but you can't run bulldozer over that - and if Facebook thinks it'll do that it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of big oil and tobacco," Knight said.

The social media giant shocked Australia on Thursday when it blocked all news content from its platform in a stunning escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.

The move came after the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison drafted a law to require Facebook and Google to reach commercial deals with news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or be subjected to forced arbitration to agree a price.

Facebook said it had blocked a wide swathe of pages in Australia because the draft law did not clearly define news content.

It said its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed and it would restore pages that were taken down by mistake.

"If you gain value from carrying trusted sources of information - in the same way as if you gain value for example from music streams - then those that carry those and then sell advertising off the back of that value, should pay for it," Knight said.

"I think they're almost using Australia as a test of strength for global democracies as to whether or not they wish to impose restrictions on the way in which they do business, or corrections to the way in which they operate within markets. So, we're all behind Australia in my view."

Asked if Facebook and other tech giants had got too big for their boots, Knight said: "That's the understatement of the century, isn't it?"

"The way in which you tackle the tech giants in a positive way is to look at competition," he said.

Governments across the world have been puzzling for years what to do with the tech giants that have transformed global communication, amplified misinformation and ripped revenue away from more traditional media producers.

On Thursday, the UK government took a more cautious line than some of Facebook's fiercer critics.

"It is vital people can access accurate news and information from a range of sources, particularly during a global pandemic," a government spokesman said in a statement.

"We encourage Facebook and the Australian government to work together to find a solution."

Publishers in the UK lined up to express surprise that Facebook, headed by founder Mark Zuckerberg, had taken such action.

"So much for Facebook's commitment to free speech," said a spokesman for MailOnline, one of world's most popular news websites.

We are astonished by this inflammatory move.

The Guardian Media Group, a British media company which owns the Guardian newspaper, said it was deeply concerned by Facebook's move.

"Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online. We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy," a spokesman for the group said.