Facebook News Ban In Australia Blocks Pages For Fire Services And Charities

Facebook pages with resources for fire and emergency services in Australia are currently blocked due to a sudden ban on the sharing of news from the platform.

Facebook made the sudden decision to block people from sharing the news in Australia, which has led to a multitude of government organization and service group pages to be completely removed from the social media platform. Facebook made the announcement this week that it would be stopping people in Australia “from sharing or viewing news from local and international outlets in response to proposed legislation in the country that would force tech firms to pay news publishers for content.”

Facebook has claimed that some pages were “inadvertently impacted” by the ban and they plan on reinstating some of the pages that have since been removed since Wednesday. Overall, Australians are confused as to what the criteria is that led to Facebook removing the pages in the first place. FoodBank Australia Chief Executive Brianna Casey tweeted out that her organization is a major hunger relief charity for Australia, and the removal of their page will have dire consequences. 

“This is UNACCEPTABLE. Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic, and one of our primary communication tools to help connect people with food relief information and advice is now unavailable. Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!” Casey proclaimed.

“Many other charities, including those for domestic violence support, a range of health organizations, as well as state and territory health departments, found their pages blocked this week.”

“Facebook isn’t the only way we reach people but it’s a significant one. We are in the process of rolling out the first phase of our COVID-19 vaccine program and social media is a key tool with which to communicate this information, Facebook is wrong for this decision,” said Robert Hoge, the executive director of strategic communications at Queensland Health, in a statement to the press. For reference Queensland is Australia’s third most populated state. 

Queensland Health and 1800Respect, a domestic violence support line, have both had their pages reinstated. “We are in the midst of a once in a century global pandemic, has there ever been a time when the general population is more in need of quality, highly reliable, up-to-date health information?” claimed Brendan Crabb, the director and CEO of the Burnet Institute medical research group.

Many pages run by government branches and other official services were blocked, however, the ban on content sharing is clearly not universal for the country. For example, certain fire and emergency service pages found their information to be removed this Thursday, while others a few towns over had their pages untouched. Facebook recently released a statement regarding the ban and the “unintentional” blocking of certain government service pages.

“Government pages should not be impacted by the ban. Out actions are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”

The company continued to claim that their proposed 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. We will reverse the effects on any pages that are inadvertently impacted.” However, many were shocked to see that the platform was bold enough to even claim that their intention was to block the news from being shared; one of the main purposes of social media in general. 

Greens Party Senator Larissa Waters took to Twitter to express how she felt Facebook’s actions that led to the blocking of services for victims of domestic violence were “utterly reprehensible. “They allow fake news to spread and now block real news AND SUPPORT SERVICES so they don’t have to pay journos whose content they profit off.”

Facebook’s banning follows months of tension between the platform and the Australian government. The government is working to pass legislation that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content posted to their sites instead of freely distributing it. The platforms need publishers to populate their search feeds, and publishers need the platforms to help gain viewership.

Publishers have long felt that platforms like Facebook and Google take advantage of them by freely publishing content they have no ownership over. Google has also threatened to completely shut down search engines in Australia should the legislation pass. Facebook’s actual decision to do so, however, has caused the platform to receive a slew of backlash and boycotts. It’s currently unclear whether or not the platform will reinstate all pages and services.