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Facebook's Australian news purge blocked fire departments, food banks, its own Facebook page, and much more

Business Insider logo Business Insider 2/18/2021 (Isobel Asher Hamilton)
Mark Zuckerberg wearing a suit and tie looking at the camera: Mark Zuckerberg at the 56th Munich Security Conference in February 2020. Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images © Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images Mark Zuckerberg at the 56th Munich Security Conference in February 2020. Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images
  • Facebook banned the sharing and viewing of news content for its Australian users on Thursday.
  • This meant it blocked accounts from news organizations, but many non-news organizations were caught in the crossfire.
  • Emergency services, health departments, government officials, charities, and even Facebook's own Facebook page were blocked.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Facebook's Australian news ban has come with plenty of collateral damage.

The tech giant blocked all Australian users from posting or viewing news on Thursday in an attempt to pre-empt a proposed law called the News Media Bargaining Code. If approved, the law would require Facebook to pay news publishers for hosting their content.

As the ban came into force, dozens of non-news organizations reported that their pages had been blocked.

Among the blocked pages were those belonging to emergency services and public officials. 

Nonprofit organizations were also hit by the mass blocking, including food banks. "Why would anyone make it harder for people to access information and advice on emergency #foodrelief during a pandemic and natural disaster season? I am LIVID," tweeted Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank Australia.

Facebook's own Facebook page also got caught in the crossfire, per Canberra Times journalist Andrew Brown.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said on Thursday that Facebook's blocking of state accounts, including emergency services, posed a safety issue.

Video: Australia slams Facebook's move to block news amid new media bill (CNBC)


"The fact that there are organizations like state health departments, fire and emergency services and so on who have had their Facebook pages blocked - that's a public safety issue," he said.

"I've spoken to Facebook this morning and said the Government expects them to restore those pages as quickly as possible," he added. Facebook had restored those by later the same afternoon.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Facebook's actions as "arrogant."

"Facebook's actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing," Morrison wrote in a Facebook post.

Facebook said in a statement to Insider that it would reinstate the government pages it had taken down, but blamed the drafted law for the wholesale blocking of non-news accounts.

"The actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content. 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," a Facebook spokesperson said.

As it currently stands, the proposed legislation defines a news organization as a business that regularly produces "core news."

It defines core news as either "Issues or events that are relevant in engaging Australians in public debate and in informing democratic decision-making," or "current issues or events of public significance for Australians at a local, regional or national level."

The new law would also affect Google, which instead of withdrawing its services has struck major deals with news organizations including News Corp.

Australia's government has said it's standing its ground on the new law.

"These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them [...] We will not be intimidated by Big Tech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code," Prime Minister Morrison said.

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