Facebook Apologises for Blocking Emergency Pages in Australia

Australian government demanded the tech giant pay Australian news publishers for use of their content.

Tech and Auto
2 min read
Australian government slams Facebook’s decision as  ‘wrong’ and ‘heavy handed’. Image used for representation. 

Facebook has reportedly issued an apology on Friday, 19 February, after scrubbing several pages operated by government organisations, state health departments, charities, including its own page in an unexpected escalation of a tussle with the Australian government over monetising news content.

The decision to remove pages was taken after the Australian government demanded the tech giant pay Australian news publishers for posting their content. Following which, Facebook on Thursday, removed thousands of news pages along with some emergency service-related pages and its own page.

Blanket Ban on News

Facebook’s own page did not show any feed after the ban on news pages were imposed. The page appeared empty, with the text: ‘No posts yet’.

“This is a really hard thing to do. We’ve never done it before. We are sorry for the mistakes we made in some of the implementation,” said Simon Milner, Facebook’s vice president of public policy for the Asia-Pacific region,

However, Milner did not talk about restoring the news pages back in Australia. “All decisions are now in the hands of the Australian federal government,” he added.

Several media reports suggest that the Australian government is ready to bargain code law by the end of next week.

Facebook has reportedly blocked top news media channels such as New York Times, The Australian, Guardian Australia, BBC and ABC as well.

Although the company uses human reviewers to assess whether a page falls under News category or not, yet many emergency service pages were allegedly scrubbed by Facebook.

“There’s still some pages that we’re looking at but some of it is really difficult, in that the law isn’t clear and therefore there may be some pages that were clearly not news but actually under the law they might be,” added Milner.

Talks to Follow

Meanwhile, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Friday, confirmed speaking to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the government’s concerns and the need for an amicable solution for both parties.

Facebook is expected to talk to the Australian government again over the weekend, after lawyers of both the parties agreed on finding middle ground.“The scales are tipped too heavily in favour of publishers in what should be a framework that enables commercial relationships,” Milner added.

Earlier, on Thursday, 18 February, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg called Facebook's decision unnecessary and heavy handed.“Facebook was wrong. Facebook’s actions were unnecessary, they were heavy-handed, and they will damage its reputation here in Australia,” he told reporters.

(With inputs from Sydney Morning Herald)

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