Several federal and state government agencies, including those providing critical health and weather information, have been caught up in Facebook’s news content ban in Australia.
Facebook began blocking news content on its social media platform on Thursday morning in response to the government’s proposed media bargaining code, making good on a threat it made last year.
The code would force digital platforms like Google and Facebook to negotiate payments to news organisations, with a binding “final offer” arbitration process used if no agreement can be reached.
News media sites, including iTnews and its sister publication CRN Australia, now show up on Facebook without any posts, with the ‘posts’ navigation tab itself missing altogether from pages.
Facebook's A/NZ managing director Will Easton said the company had taken the action as the code – which passed parliament's lower house on Wednesday – “ignores the realities” of Facebook’s relationship with publishers.
But beyond blocking news content from users or posts from companies tagged as ‘media/news’, ‘publisher’ or even ‘website’, the Facebook block appears to extend to several government agencies.
Pages for the Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland Health, SA Health, ACT Health and the Department of Fires and Emergency Services WA – all of which provide critical information – now show up without any posts.
@ACTHealth and @actgovernment Facebook pages have been blocked. They are still here on Twitter. We are working with our colleagues to keep you updated on Facebook with info about COVID-19 and the vaccine rollout at https://t.co/G8Vu0qpxiJ— ACT Health (@ACTHealth) February 17, 2021
It appears SA Health has been caught up in the @Facebook restrictions that came into place overnight for Australian news outlets.— SA Health (@SAHealth) February 17, 2021
Our website remains active. You can follow our Instagram and Twitter for your health news.
SA Health has contacted Facebook to rectify this issue.
Our Facebook page is down. Facebook is just one of our many tools for communicating directly with you about important health advice. In the meantime, we'll continue to post all health updates here and on our website https://t.co/1H7L70fUCt— Queensland Health (@qldhealthnews) February 18, 2021
Media release: https://t.co/kt4NP2OPEP
Other pages caught up in the block include whole-of-government accounts for the ACT and SA governments, Queensland’s public transit agency, and at least one local health district in NSW.
Emergency services agencies and health departments in Victoria, NSW, Tasmania and the NT appear unaffected, as do posts from the Victorian Government News page.
South Australian health minister has urged Facebook to immediately reverse the decision to "restrict the dissemination of important public health information during a global pandemic", describing it as "absolutely unacceptable".
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said her department was "speaking directly to Facebook... about how important it is for Queensland Health information... to be given out to people across [the] state".
In a statement, Facebook said "government pages should not be impacted by today's announcement", blamming the vague definition of news content in the proposed media code for the impact.
"As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted," it said.
"However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted."
Update 1:15pm: Impacted government posts have started to return on Facebook.