Facebook accused of deliberately blocking government and health pages in Australia

Whistleblowers accuse Facebook of deliberately blocking government, health and emergency services pages in Australia to thwart a potential law that would force platforms to pay for information, WSJ. Accusers say the platform created an algorithm last year to identify which pages would affect publishers the most. But Facebook reportedly not only took down pages for the media, it also took down pages for hospitals, governments and charities.

According to the documents, Facebook has assembled a team of about a dozen employees to remove content from Australia’s news. The team bypassed an existing Facebook database of existing news publishers. Instead, Facebook employees quickly created a new algorithm with a definition of news broad enough to grab a large number of non-news related pages. “If 60% of [sic] the more content within a domain shared on Facebook is classified as news, then the entire domain will be considered a news domain, an internal document said.

The end result was that – for several days – Australians were unable to access or share any news or information from government and health service pages on Facebook. The timing was particularly bad, since the country was about to embark on a mass vaccination campaign against Covid-19. A number of Australian health officials have denounced the decision. “It is truly ironic that Facebook has allowed health misinformation to spread through its platform throughout this pandemic, yet today much of this misinformation remains on Facebook as official news sources are blocked. … [The decision is] corporate bullying at its worst,” Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid told NBC last year.

Facebook’s problems in Australia began when the country’s parliament began devising ways to force companies to pay publishers for news content distributed through search products and social media platforms. In February 2021, the Australian House of Representatives passed a version of this legislation challenged by Facebook. The company then banned Australians from sharing or viewing news on the platform. After days of public outcry, the Australian Parliament finally negotiated with Facebook and embraced the social media giant’s backing. Facebook then the ban.

Facebook argued that the blocking of government and health pages was accidental. “The documents in question make it clear that we intended to exempt Australian government pages from the restrictions in an effort to minimize the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said. . WSJ. “When we were unable to do so as planned due to a technical error, we apologized and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.

The documents submitted by the whistleblowers were filed with the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, WSJ reported. A number of members of the US Congress also received copies of the Facebook documents.

Calvin W. Soper