Facebook’s Australian news ban extends to weather, and government info

Australians woke up on Thursday morning to find their news feeds, post history, and favourite news outlets’ pages scrubbed of all links to … well, news.

Facebook followed through on its threat to ban the sharing of news links by and to Australian users, as the country’s government moves closer to forcing big tech companies to pay to link media outlets’ content.

The proposed news media bargaining code would see tech giants like Google and Facebook having to pay media companies for content that appears on their platforms. While Google initially threatened to pull out of Australia over the law, which has bipartisan support, it instead struck deals with dozens of platforms to pay them for content via its News Showcase. Facebook, in contrast, has chosen to take its bat and ball and go home like a big sulky baby.

But the ban’s not just affecting local, national, and international news outlets.

It’s also affected government websites like the Bureau of Meteorology, state governments, and health agencies; satirical news sites, like the Onion-esque larrikin “local news” The Betoota Advocate; organisations like the Australian Council of Trade Unions; and even literary journals.

Hilariously, even Facebook’s own Facebook page is blocked from sharing news about Facebook on Facebook.

We’re good, actually.

Less hilariously, pages for community support organizations, like the Hobart Women’s Shelter in the Tasmanian state capital, have been wiped of links to news and resources, leaving only the page’s basic information.

Facebook's Australian news ban also blocked links to weather, government services, poetry, and Facebook itself

The loss of a key distribution platform for emergency information is especially concerning. While Australians in areas affected by extreme weather and impending natural disasters can check sources of reliable information directly, blocking government-run weather and emergency services from sending out information to Facebook users could hinder the effective distribution of that info.

Politicians are affected, too. In Western Australia, where early voting for the March 13 state election begins in mere days, the state Premier Mark McGowan’s page has not been scrubbed — but opposition leader Zak Kirkup’s has.

The “blanket” ban is, in fact, full of holes. For example, the state health department’s Facebook pages for South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have been scrubbed, but I successfully posted a link to a News page from the ACT Health website from my personal Facebook account. Meanwhile, Facebook-hosted videos and images are still available on the pages for the Western Australia and New South Wales state health departments (though it’s impossible to tell whether there were news posts that have now been yanked).

For this Australian user, Facebook’s usability has already declined this morning, with searches and link clicks leading to timeouts and error pages both on the main feed and when searching for news outlets. 

Mashable has reached out to Facebook for clarification on the process used to determine what counts as news for the purposes of the ban — and whether it’s currently working to refine its approach, or if the chaos created means the ban’s working exactly as intended.

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I am tech enthusiast and a keen learner, Currently pursuing Bachelors in Computer Science from University of Delhi

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