Technology giant Meta has been called “arrogant” by the Prime Minister over comments made by its executives about the impacts of social media on children, and been accused of blackmailing parliament over its refusal to rule out pulling Australian news content from its platforms.

Meta executives appeared before the Joint Select Committee on Social Media and Australian Society in Canberra on Friday, and refused to rule out removing Australian news from the likes of Facebook and Instagram if the company were to be designated by the government under the News Media Bargaining Code.

Meta’s regional director of policy for Australia, Mia Garlick, when asked whether Meta would ban news on its platforms if it were designated under the code, told the committee “all options are on the table”.

"We haven't had any indication from the government about any potential next steps, so I'm not in a position to be able to share more details around hypotheticals," she said.

Meta, which also owns Threads and WhatsApp, abandoned new deals with Australian media companies under the code earlier this year, leaving an estimated $70 million hole in the local media industry.

Media companies have since pressured the government to designate Meta under the code, which would force it to again enter arbitration on revenue-sharing deals with news publishers.

Government ‘will not be held ransom’ by Meta

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said Meta had threatened to remove Australian news from its platforms, but the government expected every company to “abide by our laws”.

“The government will not be held ransom by multinational companies who blatantly threaten to avoid them,” she said in a statement to Information Age.

“The government is following the process laid out by the code to the letter of the law.

“Designating Meta under the News Media Bargaining Code is a significant decision, and it requires careful consideration.”

Comments by Meta executives on Friday came as Nine announced it would cut around 200 local jobs, including some in digital news.

The Greens said Meta was “effectively blackmailing the Australian parliament by threatening to ban all news”.

The party’s communications spokesperson, Sarah Hanson-Young — who is also deputy chair of the committee on social media — said Meta had refused to pay for news from companies like Nine.

“Meta is trying to blackmail the parliament by refusing to rule out banning all news on their platforms Instagram and Facebook, should they be designated under the News Media Bargaining Code,” she said.

“It is clear that we need stronger laws that protect Australians from the predatory business models of Meta and other social media platforms.

“This could include requirements to carry news and information in the public interest and be taxed properly for their activities and revenue made here on Australian soil.

“I’m concerned these giant tech corporations are ripping off news content, costing Australian jobs and damaging our democracy.”

Meta briefly banned news on its Australian platforms in 2021 in response to the News Media Bargaining Code, before it signed content deals with some local news organisations.

PM says Meta ‘out of touch’ on social media impacts

During Friday’s hearing, Meta’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, claimed the company’s platforms had not caused harm to children, and had instead given them “tremendous benefits”.

"I think that issues of teen mental health are complex and multifactorial,” she said.

“I think that it is our responsibility as a company to ensure that teens can take advantage of those benefits of social media in a safe and positive environment.”

Meta's Antigone Davis has drawn criticism after asserting the company's social media platforms had not caused harm to children. Photo: Meta

The comments drew immediate criticism from some senators at the hearing, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese later said the comments showed “how out of touch” and “how arrogant” Meta was.

“Every parent knows that social media can have a damaging impact on the mental health of young people, on social exclusion, on the bullying that can occur online, on grooming that can occur in a dangerous way online as well,” he said in Melbourne on Saturday.

“What we need is for social media to acknowledge that it has a social responsibility to look after the people who are, after all, its customers.

"If you don't acknowledge that there's a problem, you have no chance of finding a solution.”

Albanese said parents would be “alarmed at the arrogance that Meta showed in their submission to this inquiry, for refusing not only to accept any responsibility that they have, but refusing to acknowledge that there's even a problem”.

The opposition's spokesperson for communications, David Coleman, described the comments of Meta executives as "some of the most offensive things that have ever been said to a parliamentary inquiry in this country", in an interview with Sky News.

Both the government and opposition have backed calls to limit social media access to those over the age of 16.

The federal government has funded a $6.5 million trial of technologies to prevent minors accessing content such as pornography, social media and age-restricted services.

Minister Rowland said the government had also given the eSafety Commissioner powers to hold social media platforms to account, “including putting them on notice that they must place the best interest of the child at the heart of services children use”.

She said an ongoing review of the Online Safety Act would also “make recommendations to government on how laws could be further strengthened”.

Privacy watchdog the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner told Information Age in June that it had also requested a meeting with Meta to discuss privacy safeguards in its artificial intelligence products, some of which have been trained using Australians’ public Facebook and Instagram posts.