Quillette banned from Facebook

February 18, 2021 • 9:00 am

A lot of people don’t like Quillette because they consider it an “alt-right” site.  That’s not true: it’s a “contrarian” site that publishes stuff that’s often critical of the extreme or authoritarian Left. And I have to give kudos to editor Claire Lehmann for building up the site from nothing to a go-to site for those who are generally liberal but can’t stand wokeness, censorship, or authoritarianism. While there’s some plonk on the site, there are also a lot of good reads.

The site isn’t full of Nazis or white supremacists, so I was baffled to get a mass email from Claire declaring that Quillette has been banned from Facebook. An excerpt:

As you may have heard, Facebook has blocked Australian users from viewing or sharing news content on their platform. The mass-blocking is in response to new media laws proposed by the Australian Government which would mean that digital giants such as Facebook are required to pay for news content.

I have been critical of the proposed media code. We did not expect to benefit from it at Quillette, and we generally take a neutral position on battles between legacy media corporations and multinational digital giants.

But in resistance to the proposed laws, Facebook has now blocked Australian news sites, and Quillette has been included in the wide net that has been cast. Our Facebook page has been wiped and our links are blocked on the platform. If you would like to share a Quillette article on Facebook you will be unable to, even if you live outside of Australia.

Currently, Facebook is our third source of traffic referral, with the platform having sent over six million readers our way since our inception. Losing this stream of traffic is a significant and unexpected blow, and it will impact our revenue.
Other Facebook pages have also been caught in the dragnet. Australian Government Health Department pages, local Fire and Rescue services, weather services such as the Bureau of Meteorology and academic forums such as The Conversation have all been blocked. This is clearly a ham-fisted response. The proposed code has not been passed into law, yet Facebook is attempting to manoeuvre the Australian Government into submission.
The article referred to in Claire’s tweet is from Bloomberg Technology, and refers to a proposed law requiring sites like Facebook and Twitter to pay news sources when displaying their articles. That would mean, for instance, that if somone shared a news article on Facebook (including the news source itself, many of which share articles on Twitter), Facebook would have to pay that news source. That, of course, is insane, because it’s free publicity from the social-media site and if the news site charges for access, like the New York Times, readers would still have to pay to read an article.

Apparently Google and Facebook objected, and succeeded in securing an “arbitration panel” that would decide how much compensation should be given to the news sources.

But I’m still puzzled as to why Quillette, which isn’t really a “news source”, and doesn’t share direct links to news sources (save as hyperlinks in the text), was blocked—along with first responder and weather pages. Who’s running the railroad Down Under?  At any rate, some folks won’t be able to share Quillette links on Facebook (I’ll try doing it myself) until this blows over. In the meantime, Claire has asked for donations to the organization, and you can follow her personal Facebook page.

I just did an experiment trying to share a Quillette link on Facebook, and it worked (see below). I guess only Australian users can’t put up posts like this:

35 thoughts on “Quillette banned from Facebook

  1. So Aussies can read Quillette, or our posts about Quillette, but cannot post about Quillette? Is that the way it works?

      1. Facebook isn’t letting me see any Quillete articles and I’m here in the states. Maybe I’m doing something wrong.

    1. Agree. They’re just caught up in a fight between Facebook and the Australian government.

      I also agree with Jerry that the government’s position seems a bit bonkers here. If a Facebook user violates some news media’s copyright, it seems reasonable to say “Facebook, when you become aware of it, you must have them take it down.” Just like Fb would do for any other post that violated the law or their use standards. But demanding the company pay the usage fee…stupid.

      Seems like an unethical money grab. Government tollkeeping.

      1. > Seems like an unethical money grab.

        Exactly. If news sites don’t want Facebook to aggregate their content, all they have to do is add one line to a file called robots.txt and Facebook’s crawlers will ignore it. If they want to prevent stories from being posted by Facebook users, they just have to look at the referral URL of the request and not return content requested from Facebook. This is a blatant attempt to leverage government force by media companies.

        1. and Facebook’s crawlers will ignore it.

          That may be true for now, but I don’t want to leave it to Facebook’s (Google’s, Apple’s) voluntary discretion.

          I for one wish Australia luck – and allies – in this battle. Actual reporting (as opposed to passing along PR material) is dying because no one will pay for it. It is cheaper to republish a story that someone else researched. As long as parasitism is an option, actual productivity is a mug’s game. We have got to find a way to incentivize actual investigation and reporting, or the stories told by those who can afford PR firms will continue to crowd out truth. Fiction might continue to prevail anyway, but I’d like truth to have a fighting chance.

  2. I read a bit on Quillette and found too many articles that gave me a bad alt right vibe. There is some good content there, to be sure. But not enough to make regular visits justifiable. I don’t think I’m missing out on much.

      1. Somebody, somewhere, needs to invent a keyboard with the letter-caps incorporating a sensor for the caffeine-in-sweat level. Insufficient caffeination flashes a warning LED (a brown LED? (footnote) rather than letting the user continue to move their foot closer to their mouth …
        There’s a patentable idea in there somewhere.

        One sensor per keyboard, or two? On the spacebar and/or enter key (because different language layouts have different characters in different positions, but those two seem least-variable)?
        Now, how to measure caffeine-in-sweat? Any convenient UV fluorescence? Or … some of those fancy jellyfish proteins and a caffeine-locking antibody?

        (footnote) Optional attachment of angelic hoard and trumpets? For the model to sell to the Discotute.

  3. That would mean, for instance, that if a news source put an article on Twitter, or possibly even if you shared one on Facebook and were from Australia, the news source would have to pay the social-media sites for the publicity.

    You’ve got that the wrong way around. Facebook (or other social media site) would have to pay the news source.

    The reasoning (if you can call it that) behind this is that sites like Facebook and Google aggregate news stories from news sites and re-present them. Then people read the summary on Facebook or Google and don’t bother clicking through to the news site, thus depriving the news site of revenue.

    The argument has some merit IMO but there is a sting in the tail in that the new law says Facebook/Google would not be allowed to avoid paying the news sites by not publishing link to their content. It’s effectively a new tax.

    In protest, Facebook has banned any Australian news site links being posted by anybody and it has banned people in Australia from posting any news links from anywhere in the World. This has nothing to do with Quillette specifically, although it does look like Facebook cast their net slightly too wide.

    Edited to add:

    I’ve just done a test and it looks like Quillette isn’t banned on Facebook.

    1. Are they arguing about Facebook the company posting news summaries for it’s user base, or Facebook users creating such summaries? I can see how in the former case, the company should pay use fees. I can’t see how it’s justified in the latter case. I thought this was about the latter, but if it’s about the former, I’d be more on board with the government’s position. If CNN uses AP material, they pay AP. It stands to reason if Facebook uses AP material, they pay AP.

      1. Are they arguing about Facebook the company posting news summaries for it’s user base, or Facebook users creating such summaries?

        I think the law just applies to Facebook itself, or perhaps it’s ambiguous and that is one of the many issues with it.

        If CNN uses AP material, they pay AP. It stands to reason if Facebook uses AP material, they pay AP.

        Herein lies the crux of the problem. Both Facebook and Google post links with summaries of what the story says. They make money from the advertisements on the pages containing the links. The news organisation gets nothing unless the users click through the links to read the original stories. You can argue that Facebook and Google are stealing revenue from the news site but you can also argue that they drive clicks to the news sites and thus generate revenue for them. Let’s say the Sydney Morning Herald publishes a story and it gets aggregated into Google News. A hundred people look at Google News and ten then click through to the story in the SMH. Has Google stolen 90 views or contributed 10 views to SMH?

        The really problematic part of the law is that it tries to prohibit the solution of not posting the links at all. i.e. if Google is supposed to pay for news links it can’t decide not to pay and also not to display the links.

        1. I guess then it would come down to the Australian equivalent of the fair use doctrine. I.e. just how much and how substantive does Fb’s own ‘summary’ have to be to count as a use they should pay for. But at least that’s a more reasonable discussion to have, since you’re talking about Fb corporate paying (or not paying) for something Fb corporate put on it’s interface. The notion of the Australian government making Fb corporate pay the use fees for what it’s users post was a bit bonkers.

  4. I am confused by why if Australia is saying FB should have to pay for content, it would block the FB page of the content holder.

  5. CBS recently ran an uncritical story on astrology. So, too, did the NYTs, both also routinely report uncritically on religion. The current White House admin is actively promoting faith-based beliefs. As long as we make believing nonsense respectable, fake news will thrive.

    1. Fortunately, Astrology University has been taking steps to bring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to its vital field. See: https://www.astrologyuniversity.com/inclusivity-in-astrology/
      For example:
      “For those who are interested, we’d like to take a moment to clarify our values related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in aspects of our work, life, and community at Astrology University.
      …Astrology, like so many fields, has been a white cis heterosexual male dominated industry. That’s in a process of change and shift, as it is in many other fields. All of the systemic reasons (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, transphobia, etc.) that we see a lack of representation is just as present in astrology as it is in other fields.
      …In our school, Tony has always prioritized diversity in his chart examples in his webinars, and in 2020 we established instructor guidelines to support our other instructors in doing so as well. In addition, in 2020 we began providing diversity training to educate our instructors on best practices and sensitivity training regarding diversity, including but not limited to trans awareness, gender identity, sexism, and racism. “

  6. FB isn’t winning any friends over here in Australia. We have flood and bushfires at the moment in Australia so the shut down two sources of the essential information there is The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (a publicly owned national broadcaster) and the Bureau of Meteorology. Both essential for providing emergency information. The also shut down health advice and information on COVID sites which are not media related at all, whilst leaving anti vax and conspiracy sites unblocked.

    Google are negotiating with the media companies successfully as the legislation affects them also

    The legislation is flawed however FB have certainly lost the first round of public opinion

  7. Other news includes the bureau of meteorology, RACQ and lots of health sites. Monday we are starting our vaccination rollout so this action may have unforeseen problems. Overall the general sentiment is Facebook is bully, maybe this will be a classic case of shooting yourself in the foot. Hopefully this is the start of their decline in influence.

  8. This one is fight between bullies. Facebook vs News Corp et al. I don’t see why a government that prides itself on free markets sees fit to intervene in the market in this case, it smells of Uncle Rupert’s influence. Both Facebook’s and the big media corporations’ influence are both in decline, this is a squabble over the dwindling resource of eyes to advertise to.

    1. I don’t see why a government that prides itself on free markets sees fit to intervene in the market in this case…

      Well, the more I think about this the more I think it’s a question of copyright vs. fair use. Fb is summarizing and linking to other people’s news stories. The owners of said news want them to pay for it, just like if they reproduced the article, arguing that Fb is making money off their content without paying them to reproduce it.

      In the US, I suspect Fb would win; a one- or two-line summary of an article and a link probably comes under fair use. But I have no idea about Australia’s copyright or fair use laws.

  9. Facebook is the equivalent of the schoolyard bully. Its level of arrogance defies belief. It initially removed the pages of government sites, including vaccination updates; bush fire responders and news; the Bureau of Meteorology (an incredibly necessary source for news on cyclones and floods, both of which we are experiencing at the moment); charities; universities; public information sites like cancer researchers; indigenous health sites, etc, etc.
    Google meanwhile has entered into agreements with major new sites, after threatening to remove Google search from Australia.
    But not all is lost! We still have access to fake news, anti-vaxers; conspiracy theories, right-wing nut jobs, con artists, etc, etc.
    Australians don’t like bullies and Facebook has shown its true colours and aims – make more money regardless of the morality and damage done.
    The world got on without Facebook before it arrived and will spin on without it. I will never use Facebook again, and I can get all my news from the public broadcaster, the ABC, the most trusted news source in the country.

  10. ‘..Quillette because they consider it an “alt-right” site. That’s not true: it’s a “contrarian”..’

    About Quillette itself, I find some okay, much disagreeable, but it’s fine, maybe even worthwhile.

    However the repliers, to the extent I’ve looked, seem like mostly a real bunch of jerks and morons, though I cannot be bothered to get involved. And maybe my selection is not that random from their ‘menu’.

  11. Banning is the cool new groovy thing to do! Or at least censoring! FB censored me for “hate speech” because I said that babies were NOT assigned gender at birth, sex was observed! & Medium told me I am not allowed to make comments or even post articles anymore for making that same comment! A factual statement!

    Facebook at least asked me if I “agreed” with their action. I told them that I did NOT agree. LOL

    1. FB sent me a warning for posting a photo of Joe Biden’s German Shepherd rescue, which had apparently been photoshopped (not by me) to make the dog bigger. Heaven forfend🙀

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