Facebook's stunning decision to turn off the news for Australia highlights a long-troubled role for the US tech giant which stumbled into the news business and has grown into one of its most powerful forces.

Shockwaves worldwide as Facebook turns off the news for Australia

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by Rob Lever

Facebook’s stunning decision to turn off the news for Australia highlights a long-troubled role for the US tech giant which stumbled into the news business and has grown into one of its most powerful forces.

The announcement by Facebook, defying Australia’s efforts to impose a payment scheme for media featured on the platform, raises fresh questions about the future of the platform used by some two billion people and its relationship with the news media.

Analysts pointed out that Facebook, even though it was not created as a news organization, has become a critical source of information for many people around the world, especially younger internet users, with traditional media on the decline.

“This is a very stark reminder of the power of Facebook,” said Kjerstin Thorson, a Michigan State University professor specializing in social media.

“The idea that with a flick of a switch you could shut down a civic infrastructure — that’s a wake-up call.”

Thorson noted that Facebook’s action may deprive users of “high quality information” but “doesn’t remove people’s desire to know what’s happening. That’s an opportunity for noxious information and rumors to circulate.”

Ken Paulson, a former USA Today chief editor who is now on the faculty at Middle Tennessee State University, said the social media giant risks eroding trust in global information if the blackout becomes widespread: “Facebook without real news would be a conspiracist’s fantasy.”

– ‘We don’t steal news’ –
Facebook made the announcement Wednesday as Australia put the finishing touches on legislation that would force digital platforms to pay for news and links under a threat of government-imposed arbitration.

The Australian measure “fails to recognize… the fundamental nature of the relationship between our platform and publishers,” said Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of global news partnerships in a blog post.

“Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content. Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook. From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organizations wouldn’t use Facebook if it didn’t help their bottom lines.”

The California tech giant has been investing in news through its Facebook Journalism Project in a number of countries but has sought to avoid a mandatory scheme of paying for sharing links, saying it would set a bad precedent for the internet.

– Growing imbalance –
Still, the news media industry has seen its woes deepen as digital giants such as Facebook and Google dominate the market for online advertising in much of the world.

And the imbalance appears to have grown as news organizations struggle in the an economy roiled by the global pandemic.

“Most news media don’t benefit appreciably from links in Facebook,” said Paulson.

This underscores a need for a new system that would support news media whose information is critical to the long-term success of the digital giants, according to analysts.

Facebook’s move contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with media groups, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., in response to the Australian regulatory push.

Facebook maintains that news content makes up only four percent of people’s feeds. But Thorson said that despite the small percentage, “for many people Facebook is their main source of information,” making it a critical part of civic discourse.

“I don’t think this problem will be solved without some form of government regulation,” she said.

The standoff in Australia “is about the renegotiation of a relationship that has been strained for years,” said Chris Moos, a researcher and lecturer with Oxford University’s Said Business School.

While it appears that Facebook has the upper hand, Moos maintains that the social media leader would lose its appeal if it moves away from professional news content.

“It would be impossible to imagine Facebook (and WhatsApp) to maintain cross-demographic popularity without media content of at least the big media organizations,” Moos said.

“Media organizations and Facebook need each other. Both parties have every incentive to collaborate to come to agreements.”

Paulson said it remains unclear whether Facebook would suffer from a disengagement with news, with Australia becoming a test case.

“If people only come to Facebook for social experiences and cat photos, it will face no economic pressure,” he said.

Agence France-Presse

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Kahit Sinovac pa ‘yan! Lorenzana: Available brand is ‘best vaccine’ vs COVID-19

MANILA – Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday said the “best vaccine” to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) in the country is the vaccine that is now readily available.

Lorenzana was referring to the country’s first 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine donated by China and arrived in the country on board a Chinese military aircraft on Sunday.

“The best vaccine is that vaccine that is here available, kaya nga hindi ko maintindihan itong ating mga detractors nung hindi dumarating yung vaccine ay panay ang batikos sa atin, nung dumating binatikos pa rin na hindi maganda daw yung Sinovac, pero 13 bansa na po yung gumagamit ng Sinovac at wala naman silang reklamo (that is why I don’t understand why our detractors, who are always criticizing us when there is no vaccine yet, are still criticizing us when there is already a vaccine claiming Sinovac is not good but yet 13 countries are already using and they have no complaint so far),” Lorenzana said.

He made the comment as he graced the official kickoff of the immunization campaign for the DND and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel at the Victoriano Luna Medical Center (also known as V. Luna) in Quezon City Monday.

Lorezana said if 13 countries have already been using the Chinese-made Sinovac, it means the CoronaVac is “clinically” tested.

“So let us be very thankful to the Chinese government for donating this vaccine,” he said.

He also visited the vaccination rollout at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center where he wanted to have himself vaccinated but was dissuaded by experts as those below 18 and above 59 years old are not advised to take the vaccine.

“We will follow the advice of our experts na hindi na tayo magpabakuna muna and hintayin natin yung angkop sa ating edad (not to have myself vaccinated for the meantime and wait for vaccine that is more appropriate for my age),” the 72-year-old DND chief said.

Lorenzana said the military front-liners will be prioritized using Sinovac’s vaccines.

The 100,000 of the 600,000 doses of Sinovac vaccine were donated by the Chinese Ministry of Defense to the DND.

The DND will initially inoculate 14,520 individuals using 29,040 doses. The remaining 70,960 doses will be given to the AFP. (PNA)

Tiis muna sa Sinovac: Galvez says Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in 2nd quarter of 2021

MANILA – Due to high global demand, National Task Force Against Covid-19 chief implementer Secretary Carlito Galvez Jr. on Monday said 170,000 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines from the COVAX facility may finally arrive in the country by the second quarter of this year.

The initial batch was supposed to reach the Philippines in mid-February.

“We should not expect that Pfizer ay darating sa lalong madaling panahon dahil sa nakikita natin halos lahat ng bansa ang kinukuha nila ay ‘yung (We should not expect that Pfizer vaccines will arrive as soon as most of the countries have already ordered) Pfizer and Moderna and also AstraZeneca,” Galvez, who is also the country’s vaccine czar, said during a press briefing at the Philippine General Hospital.

He also cited President Rodrigo Duterte’s recommendation to prepare a standby stockpile of at least 2 million doses of China-made CoronaVac to enable the country to lift restrictions imposed since March last year when the pandemic began.

“Once we have that stockpile and we will maintain 2 to 5 million [doses], we can now convince the President to open the economy and also have the face-to-face education,” said Galvez, noting that the President realizes the economic contraction being caused by the health crisis.

“He is also sympathizing with the mayors na sa kanya buhay muna bago ang ekonomiya (because for him, lives must be saved first before the economy),” Galvez added.

The possible lifting of restrictions may happen within the second quarter this year, he said.

Galvez said once the government-procured AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines, including the 6.5 million doses from the COVAX facility, arrive in May, the country’s stockpile may reach more or less 10 million doses, allowing the economy to gradually open and recover.

Road to normalcy

“Once we are able to gather enough volumes this year, we see that by mid-2022 we may sharply recover,” he said.

The vaccination campaign and ongoing negotiations for the procurement of additional doses will also contribute to the country’s recovery, he added.

The country will receive some 5.1 million doses of CoronaVac within the first quarter, intended for the inoculation of healthcare workers and other essential government front-liners. (PNA)

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