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Facebook accused of ‘causing havoc’ in Australia by blocking government web pages

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The Wall Street Journal published a whistleblower report this week that alleges Facebook intentionally and maliciously caused Australian government and charity websites to be taken down last year in an attempt to protest a new content law.

Last year, Facebook blocked the pages of the Australian government in protest of a new law being considered at the time that would require platforms like Facebook and Google to pay for news content to be displayed. However, the outage of government and charity pages also took down the pages of hospitals, emergency services and charities.

Facebook claims the outage of the Australian government pages was unintentional, and that the shutdown had originally been meant to exempt Australian government pages. 

A spokesperson for Meta told WSJ this week the whistleblower documents “clearly show that we intended to exempt Australian government Pages from restrictions in an effort to minimize the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation. When we were unable to do so as intended due to a technical error, we apologized and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.”

The whistleblower documents, however, describe a very intentional plan to sow discord in Australia by shutting down the pages. Documents included in the report show how Facebook had failed to follow standard procedures for shutting down the pages.

At the time, Facebook claimed it was attempting to prevent lawsuits, but the documents show there was no system in place to dispute the takedowns, and some pages were not given advance notice of being shut down, both of which are part of standard operating procedure.

“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 WSJ.

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