Facebook Australia blocks news, civil society organisations

Occurred: February 2021

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In February 2021, Facebook blocked news journalism on its platform rather than pay the companies that produce it under the Australia's government's proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code that would make platforms pay for publishers' content.

However, the social network wiped clean the pages of new publishers, as well as of government departments, emergency services, non-profits and charities. Meantime, conspiracy theorist and anti-vaccine group pages were left untouched.

At the time, the move outraged Australians across all sections of society and raised questions about the accuracy of Facebook's content moderation and misinformation systems. 

Both systems had - and continue - to be widely accused of being ineffective, despite Facebook's insistence to the contrary.

Deliberate negotiating ploy?

The fracas also led some politicians and commentators to question whether Facebook had deliberately extended its news blocking activities to raise pressure on the Australian government. 

These fears appears to have been realised by a May 2022 Wall Street Journal report based on whistleblower testimony that indicates Facebook designed and used a custom algorithm for deciding what pages to take down that it knew would affect organisations other than news publishers, thereby ratcheting the pressure on the Australian government.

Facebook restored news to its platform after the Australian government introduced last-minute amendments to the legislation. 

An earlier threat by Google to shut down its search engine in Australia failed to materialise, with the search engine company instead choosing to forge private deals with news publishers. 

Operator: Meta/Facebook

Developer: Meta/Facebook

Country: Australia

Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts

Purpose: Moderate content

Technology: Content moderation system

Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Ethics; Mis/disinformation
Transparency: Governance; Black box; Complaints/appeals; Marketing


Investigations, assessments, audits

News, commentary, analysis

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: February 2021
Last updated: May 2022