The Facebook pages of many Australian government agencies seem to have been caught up in the social media network’s ban on news posts by users and media organizations in the country. Users on Twitter have reported that the pages of agencies like the Bureau of Meteorology, Department of Fire and Emergency Services Western Australia, and Queensland Health have no posts available.
When 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.
Crucially, none of the listed Facebook accounts are Australian media organizations, which are not allowed to post at all, and thus should not be subject to the ban. Instead, the accounts are either government agencies or landing pages for public service announcements and warnings. In some cases, removing the posts could post a significant risk to the public, as some of the departments use Facebook as a method to warn of imminent risks to public health and safety.
When reached for comment, Facebook said the ban shouldn’t impact government pages, but acknowledged there was some confusion in how far the restriction would reach. “As the law does not provide a clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” a Facebook representative said. “However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted.”
Facebook's news ban hammer having a lot of collateral damage. pic.twitter.com/mP4pfd3nL5— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) February 17, 2021
Posts have been removed from the Queensland and SA health department Facebook pages pic.twitter.com/N2K8NlFTSq— casey briggs (@CaseyBriggs) February 17, 2021
Facebook has removed NSW Fire and Rescue’s page. It’s still summer ☹️ pic.twitter.com/MIFo8Wy3jg— Trent Murray (@trent_murray) 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
The @BOM_au Facebook page has also disappeared as part of the news ban.@SciNate: "This is incredibly concerning, since the Bureau uses social media to get their warnings out as broadly as possible." pic.twitter.com/8CTHvD2oFW— News Breakfast (@BreakfastNews) February 17, 2021
Facebook has banned Facebook's own Facebook page pic.twitter.com/bvZGRaO77H— Andrew Brown (@AndrewBrownAU) February 17, 2021
Facebook’s news ban is the result of a proposed Australian law that would require tech companies to pay Australian news publishers for use of their content. Australian users of the social network will no longer be able to access any news posts, whether it’s from the country or international, and Australian news publishers will no longer be allowed to post on their Pages.
Facebook is not the only company with a strong reaction to the proposed laws: Google threatened to remove its search engine from the country completely, but has since started making deals with news publishers in the country, including a far-reaching deal with NewsCorp announced on Wednesday.