In a move against the Federal Government, Facebook has removed access to news in Australia, meaning publishers are now restricted from sharing or posting any content on Facebook and any person in Australia can no longer access news via the site.
The announcement follows Australia’s proposed media bargaining law, which would see Australia force tech companies to negotiate with media organisations over how much to pay them for news content.
Facebook has made its stance on the proposal clear; it doesn’t think governments should dictate how it operates.
In a statement on their website, Facebook said they had “no choice” but to put the restrictions in place.
“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter,” the statement read.
Facebook said news makes up “less than 4 per cent of the content people see in their news feed”.
However, it’s not just news organisations that have been restricted. Several Aboriginal community-controlled health services have had their posts blocked, as well as government information sites including state health organisations and the Bureau of Meteorology.
Indigenous health and media groups fear Facebook’s pushback will have a dangerous impact on regional and remote communities during wet season and the COVID-19 pandemic, with concerns communities will not have access to vital updates on flood warnings or the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Central Australian Congress (CAAC), a community-controlled primary health care provider, expressed its frustration via Twitter in response to Facebook’s move, given the impending COVID-19 vaccine rollout to First Nations communities.
“A primary vehicle for health promotion disabled at a crucial time,” they tweeted.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) also voiced their concern via Twitter.
We are extremely concerned that NATSILS has been blocked by #FacebookAustralia, so have some of our members. This is a human rights issue, silencing the voices of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people, our representative peak bodies. This is how we connect with community. pic.twitter.com/EsUeoKZ2mG
— NATSILS (@NATSILS_) February 18, 2021
Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy weighed in on the discussion, asking the Morrison Government to “do something about this immediately”.
So Facebook, in the middle of a pandemic and a vaccine rollout to our most vulnerable communities, information from First Nations media orgs isn’t getting out. What a mess. The Morrison Government must do something about this immediately. @NITV @BBM987 @FNMediaAust @CAAMA pic.twitter.com/Q8pXpZcP13
— Malarndirri McCarthy (@Malarndirri19) February 17, 2021
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also wrote a scathing response on Facebook in the wake of the restrictions, he called the company’s actions “arrogant” and “disappointing”.
“I am in regular contact with the leaders of other nations on these issues,” Morrison wrote.
“These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was “profoundly shocked” that Facebook had taken down health sites as part of their ban on Australian news.
“We understand that ACT Health, Queensland Health, South Australia Health, Dementia Australia, the Kids Cancer Project and Bowel Cancer Australia have all been affected,” Mr Hunt said in a press conference.
“The fact that the Kids Cancer Project could be affected, is, frankly a disgrace.
“Facebook should fix it and they should address that immediately.”
By Darby Ingram