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.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says Facebook news ban will be a blow to its reputation in Australian. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says Facebook news ban will be a blow to its reputation in Australian. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage

"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."

 

 

Several state government health pages that provide critical COVID-19 information were knocked out in the ban.
Several state government health pages that provide critical COVID-19 information were knocked out in the ban.

 

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.

 

Changes to Facebook is affecting BOM, Queensland Health etc
Changes to Facebook is affecting BOM, Queensland Health etc

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.

 

 

. 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:

Community services

Pink Elephants Support Network

Neighbourhood Watch

National Debt Helpline

1800Respect

Australian Women Against Violence Alliance

Stopping Family Violence

Bravehearts (child protection)

Sacred Heart Mission

Council to Homeless Persons

Mission Australia

DVConnect

Hobart Women's Shelter

Small Steps 4 Hannah

 

Emergency

Fire and Rescue NSW

Australian Rescue Helicopter Services

 

Government

Bureau of Meteorology - all states

Department of Fire & Emergency Services - WA

Queensland Health

SA Health

ACT Health

ACT Government

TransLink QLD

Brisbane City Council

Western Sydney Health

SA Government

Tasmanian Government

Several MPS including Mark Pearson MLC

Edward River Council

 

Health

Sutherland Shire Family Services

Sydney Local Health District

St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne

Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne

The Medical Journal of Australia

 

Charities

Australian Wildlife Conservancy

WWF Australia

UNICEF Australia

Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

 

Satire news

Betoota Advocate

The Chaser

The Shovel

 

Arts

Sydney Theatre Company

Blue Mountains Cultural Centre

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Christian Media & Arts Australia

 

Sport

AFL Womens

Queensland Rugby League

 

Commercial

Harvey Norman

Motorola

Finder

Domain

Realestate.com.au

RACQ

Energex

Virgin Australia

 

Education

Monash University

Bond University

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



Another child care centre proposed for CQ region

Premium Content Another child care centre proposed for CQ region

This centre would cater for up to 115 children and would employ 22 staff.

LETTERS: Don’t let coal mine spoil precious Yeppoon

Premium Content LETTERS: Don’t let coal mine spoil precious Yeppoon

Letters to the Editor and Harry Bruce’s cartoon.

New burger bar to open at Emu Park

Premium Content New burger bar to open at Emu Park

The owner says the new restaurant will bring night life to the small coastal town...