Facebook accused of intentionally blocking government pages to avoid passing a law

In 2021, amid the pandemic, Facebook deliberately blocked some pages of the Australian government, hospitals and emergency services to push for a law about to be passed by Canberra, according to reports. published on Thursday 5 May by the Wall Street Journal

In February of that year, the Australian government tried to force digital giants to pay for journalistic content that appeared on their pages. Google admits, but Facebook – now renamed Meta – is aiming a week before the vote on the bill, in response to restricting access to articles and videos from many Australian and international newspapers† Incidentally, the social network also blocks the pages of government agencies that provide information about the Covid-19 epidemic and several information pages about natural disasters, a few days before the start of the national vaccination campaign and in full fire and flood season.

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These blockages, at the time qualified as:“involuntarily” by Facebook, were in fact intentional, according to the observations of several whistleblowers disclosed by the Wall Street Journal† According to their testimonials and internal company documents, which were filed with the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, these publications were the result of a deliberate and deliberate strategy implemented by the platform.

Whistleblower documents show several Facebook employees tried to escalate the problem

While Facebook expressed a desire to block only press organs, Facebook is said to have used a sorting algorithm that the company knew very well would influence many other publications. The whistleblower’s documents show that several Facebook employees tried to escalate the problem and offer solutions, but the team responsible for the publications are said to have answered them in a minimalist way or with too long delays.

Following these internal reports, Facebook did not stop its campaign of de-publications: on the contrary, the latter were quickly generalized to all Australian users of the platform, while only 50% of them were confronted in the early hours. An unusual sign of eagerness, according to the Wall Street Journalsuggesting that the company is usually much slower and more cautious when rolling out new features. “It was clear that we weren’t complying with the law, but we were hitting public institutions and emergency services “, a member of the team responsible for removals testified.

Facebook officials informed

According to the US daily, the aim was to exert maximum pressure on the Australian Parliament before the vote on the law requiring fees for press articles on digital platforms.

Five days after the first publications, the law was voted on as planned, but the text was changed in a way favorable to Facebook, in line with the changes negotiated between the social network and the government the day before. If the first draft of the text had been approved, the company would have had to negotiate with all publishers under state supervision. But these amendments allowed him to deal on a case-by-case basis with the media of his choice : Since then, Facebook has negotiated 13 compensation deals with press publishers, said a company spokesperson quoted by the Wall Street Journal

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Immediately after the deal with the Australian government, Facebook unblocked access to government pages, according to internal company documents. A change that would have required only a minor change of three lines of computer code, according to the Wall Street Journal† As another sign of deliberate strategy, Campbell Brown, Facebook’s Director of Partnerships, sent an email to Facebook teams within minutes of Parliament’s vote praising their success: “We have reached exactly the place we wanted. † The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as well as its number two, Sheryl Sandberg, also welcomed the operation in writing, Sandberg greets the “precision of execution” of this strategy.

In response to the American newspaper’s investigation, a Facebook spokesperson denies the charges against the company. † These documents clearly show that we intended to exempt government pages from restrictions in order to minimize the impact of this harmful and misleading legislation. We were unable to achieve this due to a technical error. We apologize for this and we have been working on a fix for this issue. Any claim to the contrary would be categorically and clearly false.