(The AEGIS Alliance) – Facebook blocked dozens of charity groups, nonprofit organizations, and even random large box retailers in Australia late Wednesday, or early Thursday local time, a move that seems to be collateral damage from Facebook’s ban on news within the nation. Facebook even briefly blocked its own page in Australia, The Guardian reported.
Facebook has banned Facebook's own Facebook page pic.twitter.com/bvZGRaO77H
— Andrew Brown (@AndrewBrownAU) February 17, 2021
Facebook blocked all “news” content from being shared and distributed on its platform in Australia on Wednesday over a decision by the Australian government that could implement new guidelines that may pressure big tech companies to barter with news outlets and pay for news content. Facebook says the proposed guidelines are attempting, “to penalize Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for.”
Organizations that had been swept up in the ban on Thursday include the Kids Cancer Project, Council to Homeless Persons, and the state governments of Tasmania and South Australia, in line with a list compiled on Twitter by Australian journalist Kevin Nguyen.
Compiling a thread of non-news organisations caught in the Facebook ban, here.
— Kevin Nguyen (@cog_ink) February 17, 2021
So @Facebook has blocked access to our website. We are not a news organisation. Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately pic.twitter.com/588Qf1JbuD
— Sally McManus (@sallymcmanus) February 17, 2021
— Dominic Cansdale (@DominicCansdale) February 17, 2021
— Kevin Nguyen (@cog_ink) February 17, 2021
It seems the Facebook page for the federal government of South Australia has been restored in Australia, together with Facebook’s own page, however, the content of many others is nonetheless inaccessible, including the page of Tasmania’s authorities.
Facebook’s ban on news in Australia, from homegrown newspapers just like the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian to worldwide news sites, is a retaliatory move that may seemingly grind Facebook down over time.
Australian users who tried to share news content on Thursday local time had been met with a notice in red-letters on the bottom of their unpublished post that reads, “Something went wrong. We’re working to get it fixed as soon as we can.” The Facebook notice doesn’t point out the tech giant’s present battle with the Australian officials.
“Government Pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement.
The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a Facebook spokesperson 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 spokesperson added.
Some of the organizations and companies caught up in the Facebook ban have been notably weird, including Harvey Norman, an Australian big-box retailer much like Best Buy in the U.S. The Women’s Rugby League was additionally blocked, although men’s sports activities in the nation appeared to be unaffected.
Government health care organizations have also been blocked in Australia, including Western Sydney Health, South Australia Health, and the Sydney Local Health District. Australia is presently ramping up its plan to vaccinate millions of individuals for COVID-19, one thing that might seemingly be hampered if very important health care organizations are unable to distribute info to residents.
Several non-government charity organizations like the anti-homelessness group Sacred Heart Mission have also been blocked, along with different public services such as the Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Services. The latter offers essential updates throughout the fire season that may mean the difference between life and death.
— Peter Law (@PeterJohnLaw) February 17, 2021
Australia’s satirical news website The Chaser was also banned but was then restored on Thursday. The comedy group cracked a joke in regards to the ban after it regained access to its page.
Google has previously threatened to cut off all searches in Australia if the federal authorities went ahead with its plans, one thing that Prime Minister Scott Morrison didn’t appear too concerned about, saying in January that “we don’t respond to threats.” Morrison later pointed out that he’d been in discussions with Microsoft and hinted that Bing was a wonderfully acceptable alternative to Google.
But Google seems to have come to the negotiating table over these last days, even when it could relatively not appear like it was caving in to pressure. Google signed agreements with large publishers in Australia this week, including with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which was one of the largest proponents of Australia’s proposed “Media Code.”
What does the long-term hold for news content in Facebook down under? That’s anybody’s guess. Facebook had said that only 4% of content on the platform in Australia comprises hyperlinks to news content. But even when that’s true, users will doubtless get annoyed with their lack of ability to easily share links to news articles that they find attention-grabbing.
If you’ll be able to do basic sharing on a platform like Facebook it’s hard to see why users would put up with what seems to them like merely a bug. But, then again, anybody who’s still on Facebook in 2021 is already putting up with plenty of rubbish.
Update, 1:15 a.m. ET Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has given a statement on Facebook and called Facebook’s actions “as arrogant as they were disappointing.”
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing. I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues.”
“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behavior of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them. They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
We will not be intimidated by BigTech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code. Just as we weren’t intimidated when Amazon threatened to leave the country and when Australia drew other nations together to combat the publishing of terrorist content on social media platforms.”
“I encourage Facebook to constructively work with the Australian Government, as Google recently demonstrated in good faith,” Morrison’s statement concluded.
What will happen next? Well, it appears that Australian Facebook users will be without news content for quite a while until one side caves-in. It doesn’t look like Morrison is backing down.
Kyle James Lee – The AEGIS Alliance – This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.