Facebook Australia standoff sows chaos

Facebook’s move to block the sharing of articles from Australian news media has swept up government information outlets like the weather bureau, nonprofit charities and even political satire pages.

The pages for the Queensland and South Australia health services were among those affected, preventing them from serving Covid-19 information days ahead of a national vaccination programme roll-out. Australians were also prevented from accessing Foodbank Australia, Women’s Legal Shelter, the sites of some politicians and emergency service departments as well as the Australia Council of Trade Unions.

“Government pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement,” a Facebook spokesman said. “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted.”

The page for the Bureau of Meteorology has since been rectified, but other pages that were not intended to be caught up in the news-sharing block remain inaccessible in Australia. This has raised a chorus of criticism for the California-based company’s brute-force approach in its dispute with the government over how to compensate news outlets whose stories are shared on its platform.

“They’ve created chaos, and it’s quite deliberate,” said Daniel Angus, an associate professor in digital communication at Queensland University of Technology. “It would be farcical for Facebook to suggest it can run a platform of that size with that global reach and claim it blocked government websites by mistake.”  — Reported by Georgina McKay and Jason Scott, (c) 2021 Bloomberg LP


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