‘Not backing down’: Government slams Facebook news purge
Facebook's shock removal of all news content from its platform in Australia was "wrong" and "heavy-handed" Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says.
Mr Frydenberg said the federal government had no warning from Facebook before it barred news organisations and some government pages, including health departments.
"What today's events do confirm for all Australians is the immense market power of these media digital giants," he said.
"These digital giants loom very, very large in our economy and on the digital landscape."
Mr Frydenberg said the government remained committed to passing its media bargaining code and would not be "intimidated" by Facebook.
"Facebook's actions … will damage its reputation here in Australia," he said.
"Their decision to block Australians' access to government sites - be they about support through the pandemic, mental health, emergency services, the Bureau of Meteorology - were completely unrelated to the media code which is yet to pass through the Senate."
Communication Minister Paul Fletcher said the government does not "accept" Facebook's excuse for removing government and other information sites because the law was too broad.
"If there's some misunderstanding, we're happy to work through and clarify that, but the provisions of the code are very clear," he said.
"The code is not in law yet, so the argument that they had no choice but to do this because of the breadth of the definition of "news", the code is not yet in the law, so it raises an obvious question, why are they doing this now?"
Mr Frydenberg said the Morrison government would not back down from its media bargaining code despite Facebook's purge of news content.
He spoke to Facebook chief executive this morning Mark Zuckerberg about "different interpretations" about the code.
"With respect to Facebook, they've made their actions pretty plain today. We'll see if we can reach some clarifications and get them back to the table and keep them providing their service here in Australia. But our commitment, our number one commitment, is to legislate this code.
"The eyes of the world are watching what's happening here in Australia in real time."
PUBLIC PAGES COLLATERAL DAMAGE
Public pages carrying warnings on COVID outbreaks, fires, severe weather and vital social services including family violence have become collateral damage under Facebook's Australian news ban.
Several Australian emergency services including Fire and Rescue NSW had their content wiped, while national sexual assault and domestic violence services Stopping Family Violence, 1800 RESPECT, and homelessness groups like Mission Australia, were also hit.
Public pages on the platform including the Bureau of Meteorology, Neighbourhood Watch, ACT, South Australia and Queensland Health - which warn the public about COVID outbreaks, severe weather and crime - also had their content wiped.
Fire, health and meteorological services around the country were all experiencing problems with their Facebook pages, which are used to issue emergency warnings.
The Western Australia fire department's Facebook page was also emptied as the state braced for catastrophic fire danger conditions.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley tweeted the government's Bureau of Meteorology's page "has been impacted by the sudden Facebook news content restrictions", urging people to visit the website.
Major news organisations including News Corp and local community news pages were also blank along with electronics retailer Harvey Norman, AFL Women, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre.
Facebook also banned its own Facebook page.
Among the sites wiped out were a large number of women's and family-based charities, including the Pink Elephants Support Network, Australia's top early pregnancy loss support charity.
The group support thousands of Australian couples every year, and its closed Facebook page is often the first point of call for the people they support.
The news ban has outraged Australians, with many slamming the company's decision to block content ahead of the nation's vaccine rollout, when communities will be reliant not only on local news but community groups who share their information.
So Facebook, we’re a charity which tries to help people learn to protect themselves from becoming victims of crime & connect with their community by provide tips & advice. Your #facebooknewsban has sent our page dark too. Why? #FacebookAustralia #FacebookWeNeedToTalk— Neighbourhood Watch (@nhwvic) 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
. Thousands have turned to Twitter to call out Facebook's ability to ban factual sites and vital public information pages so rapidly, while conspiracy theories, hate groups, sexist content and other disturbing material continues to proliferate on its platform.
Controversial MP Craig Kelly, who has been criticised for sharing misinformation about COVID-19, still has an active page as does chef Pete Evan's Evolve Network.
Facebook has indicated it will try to reinstate the posts of government pages, including for health departments and weather services.
In a statement a Facebook spokesman said government pages "should not be impacted" by the ban.
"The actions we are taking are focused on restricting the publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content," he 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 move by Facebook comes with Australia poised to adopt legislation that would force digital platforms to pay for news content.
Facebook's move contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with media groups, including one announced earlier in the day with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., in response to the regulatory push.
Facebook's news partnerships head Campbell Brown said in a tweet that the company acted reluctantly to block news content for Australian users.
FACEBOOK PAGES IMPACTED BY THE BAN INCLUDE:
Pink Elephants Support Network
National Debt Helpline
Australian Women Against Violence Alliance
Stopping Family Violence
Bravehearts (child protection)
Sacred Heart Mission
Council to Homeless Persons
Hobart Women's Shelter
Small Steps 4 Hannah
Fire and Rescue NSW
Australian Rescue Helicopter Services
Bureau of Meteorology - all states
Department of Fire & Emergency Services - WA
Brisbane City Council
Western Sydney Health
Several MPS including Mark Pearson MLC
Edward River Council
Sutherland Shire Family Services
Sydney Local Health District
St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne
Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne
The Medical Journal of Australia
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Médecins Sans Frontières Australia
Sydney Theatre Company
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre
Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra
Christian Media & Arts Australia
Queensland Rugby League
Charles Darwin University
University of New England
The University of Newcastle
The Medical Journal of Australia
Originally published as 'Not backing down': Govt slams Facebook news purge
So @Facebook has unfortunately disabled our page this morning. We are not a news outlet. We are a wildlife charity.— Australian Wildlife Conservancy (@awconservancy) February 17, 2021
We are working to resolve this issue. Please support us by opting to stay up to date via our eNews: https://t.co/LTBo52aofD pic.twitter.com/QnTAbZsCv0