ZB

'Strategic masterstroke': Australian Facebook chaos deliberate says report

Author
news.com.au,
Publish Date
Sun, 8 May 2022, 9:21am
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg

'Strategic masterstroke': Australian Facebook chaos deliberate says report

Author
news.com.au,
Publish Date
Sun, 8 May 2022, 9:21am

Facebook was aware of its impact when it "inadvertently" closed pages of Australian hospitals, emergency services and charities in 2021, according to a news report. 

Facebook blocked news websites in Australia in February last year in response to potential legislation that would make platforms pay publishers for content. 

When the blackout occurred, hundreds of other pages that were not news outlets were also hamstrung. 

At the time of the chaos, Facebook said the closure of pages related to the Australian government, hospitals and charities was "inadvertent". 

A report from the Wall Street Journal now says the blackout was hailed as a strategic masterstroke. 

"Facebook documents and testimony filed to US and Australian authorities by whistleblowers allege that the social-media giant deliberately created an overly broad and sloppy process to take down pages – allowing swathes of the Australian Government and health services to be caught in its web just as the country was launching Covid vaccinations," the story published on May 6 reads. 

The publication alleges, according to whistleblowers and documents, the move to close these other pages was to exert maximum negotiating pressure over the Australian parliament. 

It was about to vote on the world's first law that would require platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for content. 

"Despite saying it was targeting only news outlets, the company deployed an algorithm for deciding what pages to take down that it knew was certain to affect more than publishers, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter," the report said. 

Authorities who managed these Facebook pages were not told about the block in advance or provided a system of appeal once they were barred from using the platform. 

Facebook has denied the moves were a negotiating tactic. 

"The documents in question clearly show that we intended to exempt Australian Government pages from restrictions in an effort to minimise the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation," Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told the WSJ. 

"When we were unable to do so as intended due to a technical error, we apologised and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false." 

Facebook felt it needed a broad tool because the law didn't define news, Stone said.