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‘Facebook was wrong’: Australia’s treasurer slams social media giant’s move to block news

Different news sites seen on Facebook on Feb. 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.

Robert Cianflone | Getty Images News | Getty Representatives

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was “wrong” and “unnecessary” for Facebook to block Australian users from all bulletin content — including those from the government — on its platform.

“Facebook was wrong. Facebook’s actions were unnecessary. They were despotic and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” Frydenberg said on Thursday.

“Their decision to block Australians’ access to regulation sites — be they about support through the pandemic, mental health, emergency services, the Bureau of Meteorology — were from A to Z unrelated to the media code, which is yet to pass through the Senate,” he said.

The Australian parliament is expected to pass a new milieu bill that will require online platforms like Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for displaying and affiliation to their content.

Facebook’s decision was in contrast to that of Google. The latter on Wednesday said it has agreed on a revenue-sharing do business with Australian media conglomerate News Corp, which owns media outlets including The Wall Alley Journal and New York Post.

In addition to pages run by news outlets, several government-backed Australian accounts were also wiped neat by Facebook on Thursday morning, reported Reuters. Government pages affected include those providing advice on the Covid pandemic and bushfire threats, the hearsay agency said.

Human rights advocates also criticized Facebook’s move. Elaine Pearson, Australia chairman at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the social media giant is restricting grave information such as Covid-19 updates.

“Facebook is severely restricting the flow of information to Australians,” she said.

“This is an startling and dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable,” she added.

Facebook asserted in response to CNBC’s request for comment that government pages should not be affected by its latest move in Australia.

“The manners we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news delight,” a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have charmed a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted,” the averral read.

Many of those pages were restored by mid-afternoon, according to Reuters.

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