World Australia's fire services, charities and politicians blocked in Facebook's chaotic news ban
Facebook finally bans vaccine misinformation on its platforms
Facebook announced on Monday that it would ban vaccine misinformation from its platforms, after years of allowing false vaccine-related claims to spread on social media. The move targets coronavirus vaccine-related claims and could help spread genuine information about the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaigns. Facebook will also ban general vaccine-related claims that are untrue, such as posts and pages saying that “vaccines are toxic, dangerous or cause autism.” Facebook has been a source of harmful content for years, and the company has yet to find a way to address the matter perfectly. But Facebook is, at least, trying to do it.
Fire and emergency services. Domestic violence charities. State health agencies.
Facebook'sto block people from sharing news in Australia has had unexpected consequences for a wide range of government organizations and service groups, who woke up Thursday to find that their pages had been inexplicably swept up in the company's far-reaching ban, too.
Facebook’s Australian media ban is taking down official government pages
Fire agencies and health departments’ posts have disappeared from the platformWhen Verge staff in the US tried to access the pages, some saw them as having no posts. Other Verge staffers saw posts appearing as normal, however, though were often viewing pages without logging into Facebook. Still, the volume of Twitter concerns makes it clear that, for at least some users, posts from those pages are inaccessible. It’s unclear whether the different results were the result of a ban still rolling out or Facebook retracting the enforcement action.
The American social media giant said Wednesday that it would stop 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.
Although some of the pages have now been reinstated — and Facebook says it will reverse pages "inadvertently impacted" by its move — questions remain in Australia about why they were pulled down by Facebook in the first place.
'Sort this out'
FoodBank Australia Chief Executive Brianna Casey tweeted that her organization, a major hunger relief charity in the country, could no longer access its page on Thursday.
"Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic,". "Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!"
Facebook bans news in Australia from its pages - also important updates on Corona
As a reaction to a planned new media law, Facebook blocks the sharing of news content on its platform in Australia. Australian Facebook users can no longer share national or international journalistic content. The background to this is the government's plans in the Australian capital, Canberra, according to which Internet giants such as Google parent "Alphabet" and Facebook should pay local media companies in the future when they distribute their content.
Many other charities, including the 1800Respect domestic violence support line and a range of health organizations working with Indigenous Australians, also found their pages blocked Thursday.
So did state and territory health departments, including those of Queensland and South Australia.
"Facebook isn't the only way we reach people but it's an significant one," said Robert Hoge, the executive director of strategic communications at Queensland Health,. Queensland is Australia's third-most populous state and home to the city of Brisbane.
"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," he said, adding that Facebook had gotten this decision "wrong."
Queensland Health and 1800Respect were among the pages that had been reinstated by midday.
The Technology 202: Facebook's ban on Australian news triggers greater scrutiny of its vast power
Rep. David Cicilline, who led a 16-month investigation into competition in the tech industry, called the moves 'the ultimate admission of monopoly power.' Facebook’s decision to block the posting and sharing of Australian news highlights the platform's vast influence over the media industry, raising the stakes in global regulators’ efforts to address its power.
Much of the criticism was directed at Facebook, which Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said during a press conference had given the government no warning of its imminent ban.
"We are in the midst of a once in a century global pandemic," Brendan Crabb, director and CEO of the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute medical research group told CNN Business. "Has there ever been a time when the general population is more in need of quality, highly reliable, up-to-date health information?"
At least one Australian politician also found his professional page affected. In Western Australia, which will hold a state election in just a few weeks, opposition leader Zak Kirkup's Facebook page was blocked. But Premier Mark McGowan's was still accessible.
While many pages run by government branches and other services were blocked, the ban on sharing content did not appear to be universal. For example, while some users reported that the page for the Western Australian Department of Fire and Emergency Service was blocked, Queenland's fire and emergency service pages were left untouched.
Facebook's Australian news purge blocked fire departments, food banks, its own Facebook page, and much more
Facebook's Australian news ban also hit non-news organizations. Facebook said it would restore some of the pages that were "inadvertently" impacted.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.
Facebook said in a statement that government pages "should not be impacted" by the announcement, adding that its actions were focused on "restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content."
As the 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," the company said, adding that it would reverse the effects on any pages "that are inadvertently impacted."
The initial rollout of the ban outraged some Australian politicians, who took the opportunity to point out that Facebookon its platform.
Greens Party Senator Larissa Waters said on Twitter that blocking access to Facebook pages for women's domestic violence services was "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," she tweeted.
Facebook said Thursday that its "commitment to combat misinformation" has not changed, adding that it is directing people to "authoritative health information" on the coronavirus, for example.
Months of tension
Facebook's move follows months of tension between Big Tech firms and the Australian government. The country is working to pass legislation thatto pay news publishers for content posted to their sites — instead of being freely distributed, as that content is now.
Facebook will restore news in Australia after talks with the government
Facebook says it will restore news pages in Australia after a breakthrough in talks with the government. © Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images A Facebook employee walks by a sign displaying the "like" sign at Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California, on October 23, 2019. (Photo by Josh Edelson / AFP) (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images) The announcement caps month of bitter dispute between the American tech firm and Canberra, which had been working on legislation that would force tech platforms to pay news publishers for content.
The two sides need each other: The platforms need publishers to populate their search results and feeds, providing users local, up-to-date and reliable information on what's happening. And publishers need the platforms to help drive audience numbers to their sites. But for years, publishers have said platforms like Google and Facebook take unfair advantage of the news media, giving them little in return.
Facebook and Google, though, have argued that Australia's legislation is unworkable and unfairly punishes them.
Facebook had been working with Australia for years to find a solution that "recognizes the realities of how our services work," wrote William Easton, managing director for Facebook Australia and New Zealand,.
"Unfortunately this legislation does not do that," Easton said, adding that the new ban was made with a "heavy heart." "Instead it seeks to penalise Facebook for content it didn't take or ask for."
While Google had also threatened to take drastic action, saying last month that itif the legislation passed, the company has now appeared to take a different approach than Facebook. It recently announced a three-year deal with Rupert Murdoch's News Corp in which the tech giant will pay to license News Corp content.
Facebook's sudden imposition of the ban, meanwhile, may reflect poorly on that company, according to Tai Neilson, an expert in journalism and digital media at Australia's Macquarie University.
Neilson said in a commentary that Facebook's rapid removal of Australian news content raised questions about how serious it is about cracking down on dangerous misinformation on its platform, much of which has lingered for years without being banned.
"Facebook already suffers from a lack of good will amongst the public and this may be the last straw for many Facebook users," Neilson said.
-- Michelle Toh contributed to this report.
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