SYDNEY (AUSTRALIA) – Social media giant Facebook blocked all media contents in Australia on Thursday after dramatic escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.
News producers, politicians and human rights advocates criticised the move by FB, after it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks were also taken down from the site along with news.
“Facebook was wrong, Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told a televised news conference.
Frydenberg said Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg gave no warning of the news shutdown when the pair spoke over the weekend about the latest laws which will put Facebook and search engine giant Google in a position to pay local publishers for content.
Facebook said in its statement that the law, which is expected to be passed by parliament within days, “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news content.
Lisa Davies, editor of daily The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper, owned by Nine Entertainment Co Ltd, tweeted: “Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform.”
“Demand for food relief has never been higher than during this pandemic, and one of our primary comms tools to help connect people with #foodrelief info & advice is now unavailable,” tweeted Brianna Casey, chief executive of hunger relief charity Foodbank.
“Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!”
Though Facebook sorted out many government-backed pages by mid-afternoon, all media sites remained dark, including those of international outlets like the New York Times, the BBC, News Corp’s Wall Street Journal and Reuters.
“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events,” said Human Rights Watch in a statement. “Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.”
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Facebook had sent the message to Australians that “you will not find content on our platform which comes from an organisation which employs professional journalists, which has editorial policies, which has fact-checking processes”.
Health Minister Greg Hunt called the move “an assault on a sovereign nation” and “an utter abuse of big technology’s market power”.