Posts disappear amid Facebook news ban

Facebook has restricted access to news in Australia, and so far the tech giant seems to have taken a pretty broad definition of news.

Key points:

  • Government pages like the weather bureau and health departments were hit by the ban
  • The outages affected support services, unions, small businesses and even a WA state opposition party page
  • A Facebook spokesperson said the changes should not have happened and impacted pages would be fixed

Some pages that don’t fit the traditional news genre were stripped out as part of the stoush between Facebook and the federal government over whether the social media company should pay for Australian content it runs on its site.

In response to the outages, Facebook said government pages should not be hit by the changes. A spokesperson said any inadvertently impacted pages would be fixed.

“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,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Here is a look at some of the pages where posts are down.

Weather forecasting sites

The Bureau of Meteorology, the government agency responsible for providing weather service updates, was affected.

However, you could still post links from the BOM website to Facebook, unlike links from traditional news websites.

In a statement the BOM reminded readers to visit its website and Twitter feed for updates.

“The Bureau of Meteorology’s Facebook page has been impacted by the broader Facebook changes,” a spokesperson said.

Other weather forecasting sites like WillyWeather and Swellnet have also had content pulled.

Public health organisations and emergency organisations

The health departments for the ACT, South Australia and Queensland also had posts taken down.

Local health pages across NSW were also impacted.

Law enforcement were also caught by the ban. Content under the “latest news” tab for the Victoria Police Facebook page is unavailable.

In Western Australia the Department of Fire and Emergency Services had posts taken down.

The official pages of the Tasmanian and ACT governments were also affected.

Although the Victorian Department of Health page was “up and running” throughout the outages, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said it was a concern that some pages were down.

“This is a big issue of concern. We need to make sure that credible, reliable and authoritative public health information is readily available in all sorts of platforms,” Mr Foley said.

In South Australia, several other organisations have also been impacted including SA Water, the South Australian Government page, and the South Australian Council of Social Service’s page.

Support services, unions

Domestic, family and sexual violence services 1800RESPECT and DVConnect have had posts taken down.

Also affected was the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

Secretary Sally McManus said it was “disgraceful” that the organisation was caught up in the moves.

“We are not a news organisation. Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook,” she wrote on Twitter.

Small businesses and politics

Facebook pages of small businesses were also caught up in the ban.

Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 24 seconds
The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance says Facebook’s restrictions on Australian news are ‘very concerning’.

Sallie Jones from Gippsland Jersey said her dairy business’s Facebook posts were deleted.

“For us not to have Facebook in the first place, which I’m totally freaking out about, but the function of not to be able to share the news links, it’s just so disappointing to us as a company,” she said.

Ms Jones said she had grown her business reach through social media, including by sharing stories from news outlets.

“I actually don’t know what to do because we’ve built our whole business on Facebook and Instagram and as a start-up little milk brand, so we’ve relied very much relied on sharing content,” she said.

In politics, WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup’s Facebook page has been hit by the ban, but Premier Mark McGowan’s page appears to untouched – three weeks out from an election.

Local and international media

Smaller regional Victorian newspapers haven’t been spared.

In western Victoria, the Hamilton Spectator was fielding calls from irate readers within hours of the ban.

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Within a couple of years the likes of Google and Facebook will devour more than half local ad revenues, leaving only crumbs for traditional media players.

“As a smaller newspaper, Facebook’s our first point of communication with our readership and to not have it, it’s like cutting off one of your legs,” said editor Tara Fry.

“For a lot of people, whether it’s right or wrong, they do get their news from Facebook.

“I’ve already had a number of locals come in or, or talk to me and say, ‘What are we going to do? That’s where I go to get my news’.

“So it’s pretty frustrating, and to have it come out of the blue, I guess, even more.”

The newspaper produces three editions per week, and Ms Fry said the paper uses social media to publish urgent information that can’t wait for the print edition.

Radio Australia and the ABC Indonesia accounts are also down. The ban has also hampered access to content in the Pacific region via Facebook.

Lifestyle and satire

Other pages which have been stripped of their content include Urban List, which offer restaurant reviews, satire sites like the The Betoota Advocate and The Shovel, and even homemaker magazines like Home Beautiful.

Even Facebook’s own Facebook page has removed content for Australians readers.

Other pages caught up in the ban include:

  • Harvey Norman
  • TransLink
  • RACQ
  • Bowel Cancer Australia
  • The Kids’ Cancer Project
  • Women’s Rugby League
  • Queensland Rugby League

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