Facebook has blocked content from important sites like the Bureau of Meteorology and state health departments as part of its move to limit its services in Australia.
It’s also appeared to have blocked its own page.
As of Thursday, Facebook users in Australia are not able to read or share local or international news content on the platform’s news feeds. And Australian news publishers are restricted from posting or sharing content on local and international Facebook pages.
While Facebook said the gag was meant for “Australian and international news content”, the platform has also wiped the pages of the Bureau of Meteorology, various state health departments, trade unions, charities and even electronics shop Harvey Norman.
The ban on vital emergency services like BOM is particularly worrying since a a severe weather warning and flood watch is in place for north Queensland today.
The national domestic violence and sexual assault helpline 1800Respect can no longer share vital information, a move the Victorian Council of Social Service called “beyond outrageous”.
Smaller Indigenous and community media organisations are also censored.
Facebook also appears to have banned its own page from Australian viewers:
Meanwhile, fake news sites are still able to post and operate.
Facebook has stripped links and videos from Australia’s biggest news brands, such as the ABC, Sydney Morning Herald, Yahoo News, BuzzFeed, and News.com.au. Facebook has also removed HuffPost Australia’s Facebook content.
Lifestyle brands like New Idea and Marie Claire are also affected.
The decision is in response to a news media bargaining code that would see big tech companies like Google and Facebook pay news publishers for content. The Australian federal government has said it plans to put the legislation, which effectively forces Google and Facebook to strike deals with media companies or have fees set for them, to a vote in the coming weeks.
Facebook said the proposed legislation “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers, arguing that news outlets voluntarily post their article links on the platform.
Experts say Facebook’s decision to pull news from its Australian users reveals just how little the platform cares about stopping misinformation.
“Facebook blocking news in the middle of a pandemic, when accurate information is a key plank of the public health response really tells you all you need know about how much Zuckerberg cares about Australian society and cohesion,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of Reset Australia.
“Facebook is telling Australians that rather than participate meaningfully in regulatory efforts, it would prefer to operate a platform in which real news has been abandoned or de-prioritised, leaving misinformation to fill the void,” Cooper said.
Social media expert Dr Diana Bossio added that while Facebook is making a statement because it decided that it doesn’t want to abide by the rules, the plan could backfire.
“A tool is only useful if people use it, Facebook was convenient but it’s going to cause disruption not to be able to use it for news and information.
“People will find ways. Remember Myspace?
“There isn’t a platform that isn’t too big to fail.”