A new report details how atrociously Facebook behaved last year when it faced having to pay for news content it had been getting for free.

Facebook tried to bully Australia, as the country considered a media bargaining policy, by cutting access to news on its platforms.

The tactic was obvious and widely criticized.

Now, The Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster report details how Facebook overshot and misled the public about the effects of its temporary news ban.

“Despite saying it was targeting only news outlets, the company deployed an algorithm for deciding what pages to take down that it knew was certain to affect more than publishers,” the Journal reported.

Some Facebook employees were concerned about harmful effects of the ban, which also blocked public health and safety information. But their alarms were met with “a minimal or delayed response” by leaders.

Meanwhile executives, including Facebook’s top liaison with the news industry, cheered and celebrated the information blockade, according to emails the WSJ reviewed.


Its headline: “Facebook Deliberately Caused Havoc in Australia to Influence New Law, Whistleblowers Say.”

Whistleblowers also shared details with regulators in the U.S. and Australia.

“It was clear this was not complying with the law, but a hit on civic institutions and emergency services in Australia,” an employee involved in the project told the WSJ.

A Facebook spokesperson said the ban didn’t work as intended because of a technical error and the company apologized and worked to correct it.

Either way, these are billionaires and centimillionaires going to extreme ends, and punishing millions of innocent civilians, to avoid paying for the commercial equivalent of a Netflix or Spotify subscription.

Australia’s pioneering policy succeeded in forcing Google and Facebook to finally start paying the country’s news outlets for content the platforms profit from. Nearly every outlet has reached agreements, including a coalition of small and rural newspapers.


The policy was written as a hammer that would be dropped if the companies failed to negotiate in good faith with publishers. That hammer has yet to fall because the threat mostly worked.

However, that may change because a few outlets haven’t yet reached content deals and because of the new revelations of how obnoxious and borderline deceitful Facebook was last year.

The hammer would be a formal designation of Google and Facebook as dominant platforms, which would trigger oversight and a stricter process for negotiating compensation deals, with baseball-style arbitration if deals weren’t reached.

Canada’s government is now pursuing a similar policy, modeled on Australia’s, and sponsors of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in the U.S. Congress are reworking the bill to give it the strength of Australia’s policy.

The new report should convince regulators and policymakers that they’re on the right path emulating Australia’s model and pursuing broader antitrust cases against companies that are misbehaving.

The revelations also drive home why news outlets, especially small ones withering away in America’s heartland, need policy giving them leverage to negotiate fair compensation from dominant and thuggish platforms.


Local news shines in Pulitzer Prizes: Reminders of why the local press is critically important and must be preserved came this week when the 2022 Pulitzer Prizes for journalism were awarded.

Local and regional outlets won Pulitzers for breaking news reporting (The Miami Herald’s coverage of the Champlain Towers South collapse) and investigative reporting (a Tampa Bay Times project exposing toxic hazards of a battery-recycling facility, which prompted safety reforms).

Herald reporter Julie Brown then tweeted a “reminder” that “we no longer have a newsroom — and most of the very journalists responsible for this prize had their pay docked last month by McClatchy because we’re still fighting for benefits like maternity leave.”

A collaboration between the Chicago Tribune and the Better Government Association watchdog group won the local reporting prize for exposing poor building and fire-safety code enforcement, “which let scofflaw landlords commit serious violations that resulted in dozens of unnecessary deaths.”

“At a time when we’re suffering from a dearth of reporting on local news, it’s wonderful to celebrate achievements like the coverage of Chicago’s failed building and fire safety codes by Madison Hopkins of the Better Government Association and Cecilia Reyes of the Chicago Tribune,” Gail Collins, co-chair of the prize board and a New York Times editorial columnist, said in the announcement.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was one of two finalists for the prestigious public service award, for coverage of an epidemic of fires in the city’s rental properties. The Washington Post won the award for coverage of the Jan. 6 insurrection.


The Kansas City Star’s Melinda Henneberger won the commentary prize “for persuasive columns demanding justice for alleged victims of a retired police detective accused of being a sexual predator.”

For editorial writing, the prize went to a team from the Houston Chronicle for a campaign that “revealed voter suppression tactics, rejected the myth of widespread voter fraud and argued for sensible voting reforms.” One of the recipients, Luis Carrasco, is now an opinion writer at The Seattle Times.

Los Angeles Times photographer Marcus Yam, who previously worked for The Seattle Times, shared the prize for breaking news photography with a Getty Images team. Yam was awarded for work covering the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and Getty for photos of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The New York Times won the national reporting prize for a project on fatal traffic stops by police. It also won the international reporting prize for reporting on the civilian toll of U.S. airstrikes in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.

This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletterSign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website here.