Here's today's foreign policy mandate: Facebook blocks news content in Australia, US Secretary of State Antony Blink meets with his European colleagues about Iran and Georgia's Prime Minister step back.
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Facebook turns off news for Australians
By early Thursday morning, Australian Facebook users – all 17.2 million – found themselves in a battle of will between the social media giant and the Australian government. In a warning shot against the country's proposed bill that would force tech platforms to pay news organizations to share their articles, Facebook indefinitely banned users from reading or sharing news on the platform.
Deliberately or not, Facebook has also blocked the pages of some Australian public services as part of the move. The Queensland Public Health page, Canberra City Government, the country's weather service and Facebook's own page were deleted and blocked as part of the sweeping operation.
What seemed trivial a decade ago has more serious implications today. Around 40 percent of Australians say they use Facebook as a news source. It also shows the power Facebook needs to have if it wants to – making it harder for the company to apologize for its slow pace in tackling issues like misinformation and abuse at face value.
What's in the code? It's about a new Australian media code that would allow media companies to negotiate with technology companies to get a portion of the sales so that news content would appear in feeds and search results. Facebook says that "the exchange of values between Facebook and publishers is in favor of the publisher" and that recommendations from Facebook will offset any losses media companies could incur due to the omission of advertisers. The company also claims that only 4 percent of the content shared in Australia has to do with news.
Facebook's cries of innocence aren't entirely unfounded (after all, they don't force advertisers to use their service), but the speed at which it is dominating the digital ad market has scared lawmakers. Together, Google and Facebook now account for 80 percent of the digital advertising market in Australia.
Google's game. Google, which has an even larger market share than Facebook, has taken a different path. Revenue-sharing agreements with Australian media giants Seven West Media, Nine and News Corp were announced this week – a huge win for Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire dominates the Australian market.
Move power. The fact that Facebook, which grossed more than $ 27 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, could easily pay the fees the proposed law would mandate seems to be secondary. "What Facebook wants to do," writes BBC's James Clayton, "is to say the word."
With such a deep amount of user data available to Facebook, the company likely already knows if the move to restrict messages had any impact on the bottom line. A bigger test will be how Facebook reacts when large markets like the European Union, considering similar laws, decide to act.
Technical game. As Vivek Wadhwa and Tarun Wadhwa wrote in late 2020, the big tech backlash is alive and well in the US too. They gave seven reasons why Silicon Valley will fight under a Biden government.
What we are following today
Blinken talks about Iran. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is meeting with colleagues from Great Britain, Germany and France today to discuss Middle East policy with a particular focus on Iran. The meeting comes the day after Chancellor Angela Merkel called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to express her "concern" about Tehran's recent measures against the 2015 nuclear deal. The ministerial meeting is on time as Iran has threatened to curtail nuclear inspections from Monday if US sanctions are not lifted.
Guterres condemns vaccination nationalism. United States Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the "wildly unequal and unfair" distribution of coronavirus vaccines, pointing out that so far only 10 countries have distributed 75 percent of vaccines. He called on the G7 countries to meet this Friday to "create the momentum to mobilize the necessary financial resources" to launch a global vaccination plan.
Guterres' comments come as the European Union opened the void further with two new large vaccine purchases in quick succession: 300 million doses from Moderna and 200 million from Pfizer / BioNTech. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the increased supply – a total of 2.6 billion doses – would help the bloc to provide vaccines not only to its citizens, but also to “neighbors and partners”.
Gakharia resigns. Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Gakharia resigned the day after the arrest of Nika Melia, chairman of the opposition United National Movement, for organizing "mass violence" during the 2019 protests, Melia said he hoped his decision "to do so." will help reduce polarization ". The EU envoy for Georgia, Carl Hartzell, said Melia's prosecution put the country's democracy on a "dangerous path".
Oil prices. Saudi Arabia is expected to increase oil production in April, which is a sign of the kingdom's optimism as oil prices returned to pre-pandemic levels earlier this week. Saudi Arabia took most of the production cuts in January under an OPEC + deal and committed to producing 1 million barrels less per day in both February and March. Despite the increase in Saudi production, other OPEC + countries are unlikely to increase production. The next group will meet on March 4th to decide quotas.
Scandal in Peru. Peru was rocked by a vaccine scandal in which nearly 500 well-connected people received the vaccine against the Sinopharm coronavirus in front of the country's medical professionals. Peru's Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete and Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti have resigned in recent days after admitting they received the vaccine prematurely. Former President Martín Vizcarra, who was ousted by Congress in November on charges of corruption, is said to have been vaccinated in October during negotiations to buy the vaccines.
Today at 3:55 p.m. ET, a rover launched by NASA in July is slated to land on Mars and spell some busy weeks for the Red Planet following the arrival of orbiters from China and the United Arab Emirates earlier this month. The rover Perseverance is tasked with looking for signs of ancient life and collecting data on the geological and climatic history of the planet. The rover also brings a mark from this world: a 3 x 5 inch aluminum commemorative plate affixed to the left flank to honor the global medical community.
That's it for today.
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