A senior executive at Facebook has defended its decision to block access to news media in Australia and says it was taken with "a heavy heart".
The social media giant was described as a "school yard bully" running a "bulldozer" over democracy after it made the move, rather than pay to run publishers' content.
Australians woke up on Thursday to find they could not share nor view any domestic and international news content on Facebook ahead of a new law which would force the platform to pay the organisations producing that content.
"It is one of the most idiotic but also deeply disturbing corporate moves of our lifetimes," said Julian Knight MP, who chairs parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, speaking to Sky News.
"I'm almost speechless which is quite rare for a politician," Mr Knight said. "Australia's democratically elected government is democratically elected. And they have the right to make laws and legislation. And it's, it's really disrespecting democracy to act in this fashion."
"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," he added to Reuters.
Facebook's vice-president for Europe, Middle East, and Africa, Nicola Mendelsohn, told Sky News: "We have taken the decision - and it's been one with a really heavy heart that we've done - to stop news outlets, publishers, and also people in Australia from posting or sharing any news or any news-related content on Facebook.
"It's not something we've done lightly and it was in response to Australia's new media bargaining law. At the heart of this - and the reason why - is we think there's a real misunderstanding about how our platform actually operates and how we work with news publishers.
"It's different to the way other platforms, other technology platforms work with publishers and put out news.
"Here's the difference, up until this week news publishers - not just in Australia but around the world - they have the choice if they want to post news on Facebook.
"The reason they do that is they can get their stories out to a wider group of people, they're able to sell more subscriptions as a result, and help to grow their business."
The UK's News Media Association chairman, Henry Faure Walker, described the ban during the global COVID-19 pandemic as "a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves."
A spokesperson for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: "It is vital people can access accurate news and information from a range of sources, particularly during a global pandemic.
"We encourage Facebook and the Australian government to work together to find a solution."
Facebook has launched a Facebook News tab in the UK after completing deals with many of the country's major news providers, including Sky News, the Financial Times, and The Guardian.
The blocks mean that internationally people can't access domestic Australian news content, and domestically Australians can't access any news content on Facebook at all.
Alongside the Australian pages that have been blocked, the company also appears to have accidentally blocked the Sky News UK page. Sky News licenses its name to an Australian broadcaster, but the organisations are completely independent.
This incident was not repeated with British newspaper The Guardian, which runs a Guardian Australia online brand - the latter of which has been blocked. A Facebook spokesperson said they were investigating the issue with Sky News.
The Guardian Media Group stated: "We are deeply concerned about Facebook's decision to remove news from its platform in Australia, which clears the way for the spread of misinformation at a time when facts and clarity are sorely needed."
It added: "The creation of the Digital Markets Unit in the UK will be crucial to establishing key principles of fair trading, open choices and trust and transparency in the digital economy."
The move followed a review commissioned by the UK government and published in February 2019 that found Facebook and Google had a detrimental impact on British news media because they captured so much of the share of online advertising revenue.
Later that year, Sky News technology correspondent Rowland Manthorpe reported on how news media organisations were being put out of business by Facebook and Google.
Figures produced for Sky News by research firm eMarketer revealed 61% of UK media advertising was going to either Facebook or Google.
The European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager described the pair as "a de facto duopoly" but fell short of promising regulatory action, merely saying it was something her office was following.
The block in Australia follows its government drafting a law - which is expected to be passed within days - that would oblige 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.
Although Google had initially threatened that it would remove Google Search from Australia if the law was passed, the company has now backtracked and signed several pre-emptive deals with news media organisations.
Facebook claimed the law "fundamentally misunderstands" the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news content.
The company's action has been criticised by a wide range of groups, including Amnesty International, which said it was "extremely concerning that a private company is willing to control access to information that people rely on".
At the same time as the block on legitimate news sites was implemented, Press Gazette reported that Facebook was taking money from Chinese media organisations for "propaganda" purposes.
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