Oliver Dowden issues warning to Facebook after Australia row

Oliver Dowden issues warning to Facebook after Australia row

Oliver Dowden warns Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg the social media giant must not deploy the ‘nuclear option’ of turning off newsfeeds in Britain as it did in Australia over competition row

  • Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden spoke to Facebook’s Sir Nick Clegg last night 
  • Came after Facebook’s decision to temporarily turn off newsfeeds in Australia
  • Mr Dowden said that was a ‘nuclear option’ which must be avoided in the UK 

Oliver Dowden has told Facebook its decision to temporarily pull the plug on newsfeeds in Australia was a ‘nuclear option’ that must not be repeated in the UK. 

The Culture Secretary met with the social media giant’s communications chief, Sir Nick Clegg, last night to express the Government’s concerns at the firm’s actions. 

Mr Dowden warned Sir Nick that ministers ‘won’t shy away from intervening to protect the interests of the public’ if needed as the Government develops measures to improve competition in the digital market.    

Facebook sparked a furious row with the Australian government after it banned news posts on its platform over a proposed law that would force tech giants to pay for journalism.

Facebook eventually reversed the move after politicians agreed to revise the law but the firm’s ability to switch off content for millions of users has prompted growing concern around the world.  

Oliver Dowden has told Facebook its decision to temporarily pull the plug on newsfeeds in Australia was a ‘nuclear option’ that must not be repeated in the UK

Facebook sparked a furious row with the Australian government in recent weeks after it banned news posts on its platform over a proposed law that would force tech giants to pay for journalism.

Mr Dowden said Facebook’s actions ‘strengthened’ his view that digital markets are not functioning properly.

‘I am relieved Facebook has switched newsfeeds back on in Australia,’ Mr Dowden said following the meeting.

‘Turning the tap off on news in a global pandemic was a concerning move which looked like Facebook was putting its bottom line above the public interest.

‘I put these concerns to Facebook and set out our interest in levelling the playing field to enable proper commercial relationships to be formed. We must avoid such nuclear options being taken again.’ 

Mr Dowden made clear to Sir Nick during their meeting that the UK Government has not ruled out any options regarding its planned pro-competition regime for digital markets.   

The Culture Secretary intends to bring up the matter during the UK’s G7 Summit in June, when world leaders from the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the EU will convene in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. 

As well as a meeting with Sir Nick, who joined Facebook as vice president for global affairs and communications in October 2018, Mr Dowden spoke to his Australian counterpart, Paul Fletcher, minister for communications.

Speaking about UK efforts, Mr Dowden continued: ‘We are working on a pro-competition regime which will benefit not just news publishers, but also consumers and other businesses affected by the market dominance of a small number of big platforms.

‘Tech titans have become the gatekeepers of online knowledge and the custodians of virtual public squares, and the Government won’t shy away from intervening to protect the interests of the public when it needs to.

The Culture Secretary met with the social media giant’s communications chief, Sir Nick Clegg, last night to express the Government’s concerns at the firm’s actions

‘Here in the UK, we are taking action by building a coherent and comprehensive approach to digital regulation.

‘Whether through our pro-competition regime enforced by the new Digital Markets Unit or through our upcoming Online Safety Bill, we are aiming to bring in fairer rules of the road.

‘We will hold these companies to account and bridge the gap between what they say they do and what happens in practice.

‘We will prevent these firms from exploiting their dominance to the detriment of people and the businesses that rely on them.’ 

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