Menlo Park, CA – Facebook accidentally blocked its own page on Thursday when its ban on sharing news in Australia went into effect and locked down countless pages.
Millions of Australians woke up and encountered blank pages where they used to get their news on social media after Facebook blocked all “news” content from being distributed, Gizmodo reported.
The social media giant’s ban on sharing news came after the Australian government proposed making big tech companies negotiate with news outlets and pay for news content shared on their pages.
Facebook complained the proposal is an attempt “to penalize Facebook for content it didn’t take or ask for,” according to Gizmodo.
But news outlets weren’t the only Facebook pages that were blocked in Australia, Newser reported.
Following Facebook’s standard practice of relying on algorithms which falsely flag content, the ban also wiped out state government pages, charities, and health departments.
— Kevin Nguyen (@cog_ink) February 17, 2021
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Australian Shadow Minister for Health and Aging Mark Butler tweeted. “Australians need to hear from credible voices in the vaccine rollout. This is completely irresponsible from Facebook. The Morrison Government needs to fix this today.”
We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Australians need to hear from credible voices in the vaccine rollout. This is completely irresponsible from Facebook. The Morrison Government needs to fix this today. https://t.co/wPM7oibNRm
— Mark Butler MP (@Mark_Butler_MP) February 17, 2021
The ban on sharing news even extended to Facebook’s own page which previously held company news posts, the Daily Mail reported.
“Government pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.”
Facebook said on Feb. 18 that the company would restore pages that were “inadvertently impacted,” Newser reported.
The company explained that since the Australian government hadn’t provided “clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”
But in the meantime, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Facebook page was blocked, rescue helicopter pages are blocked, and two million Australian Council of Trade Unions members cannot access the union’s page anymore, the Daily Mail reported.
Elaine Pearson, the Australian director of Human Rights Watch, called the sudden ban “an alarming and dangerous turn of events.”
“It’s not only news sites, but health department pages that share essential Covid-19 updates, emergency services and small Indigenous community pages are affected,’ Pearson tweeted. “Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of night is unconscionable.”