Australia’s news ban by Facebook was overblocked intentionally?

CANBERRA (Parliament Politics Magazine) – According to whistleblowers, Facebook employed an overly aggressive blocking system to take down the pages of Australian emergency services last year as a negotiation strategy.

Following a dispute over paying news sources, the social media platform decided to block all Australian news outlets.

During fire season and Australia’s vaccination rollout, however, fire services and state health agencies were also shut down.

Facebook claims that blocking other pages was an honest mistake.

Former employees, backed by the whistleblower Aid Charity, claim that the business “over-blocked” Australian pages at a crucial period to gain power on the Australian government.

It was evident this wasn’t them following the law, but a hit on Australian emergency services and civic institutions, one project staffer stated in filings to Australian and US authorities, as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

A ‘crude’ algorithm

The high-profile feud began in February of last year, when lawmakers were debating a landmark bill that would have required social media companies to pay news organisations for information they utilised on their platforms.

Facebook took down all news pages in Australia following the day of first vote, even those that had nothing to do with news.

The government reached an agreement with the tech giant within days, and the ban was lifted.

According to documents released to the Wall Street Journal by whistleblowers, the business didn’t use the long-standing database of news organisations, instead developed a new “crude” algorithm that classified any page with 60% journalistic content as a provider of news.

Internal planning records also purportedly revealed that the takedown was prepared ahead of time in order to be ready before an appeals procedure for errors, which whistleblowers claimed was not typical.

Employees expressed their concerns via internal messages, worried about “the damage this is doing to Facebook’s reputation” and advocating a “proactive” repair, according to the documents.

Guidance from the policy and legal team had been to be over-inclusive and tweak as they gathered more information, a product manager commented in response to another post about employee concerns.

The data obtained by the WSJ also suggest that Facebook was attempting to exclude government pages, with the bans being lifted within days.

The staff was congratulated by the company’s top officials after Australian officials agreed to alter the law to effectively free Facebook from having to negotiate with individual publications, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Founder Mark Zuckerberg said it was the greatest possible outcome in Australia, and Sheryl Sandberg, senior executive, praised the precision of execution.

The content of the whistleblowers’ assertions is denied by Facebook parent company Meta.

The documents in question clearly revealed that they had planned to exempt Australian government pages from restrictions in order to reduce the impact of that harmful and misguided law, according to the statement.

They had apologised and had worked to correct a technical error that had prevented them from doing so as intended.  Any claim to the contrary was unequivocally and unmistakably false, it said.

Libby Liu, the CEO of Whistleblower Aid, stated that Facebook had “enormous influence” over information.

They utilised that power in that case to endanger the safety of people during fire season and amidst a global pandemic, she claimed.

Whistleblower Aid and The Wall Street Journal collaborated on the discoveries of Frances Haugen, a whistleblower who disclosed internal Facebook papers on a wide range of issues last year, prompting regulators and lawmakers throughout the world to question Facebook and Ms Haugen.

Ashton Perry

Ashton Perry is a former Birmingham BSc graduate professional with six years critical writing experience. With specilisations in journalism focussed writing on climate change, politics, buisness and other news. A passionate supporter of environmentalism and media freedom, Ashton works to provide everyone with unbiased news.