When Facebook started blocking Australian publishers and residents from posting or sharing news content earlier, government agencies and even non-profit organizations got caught in the crossfire. The social network implemented the news-sharing ban in response to the country's proposed law that would require tech giants like Facebook and Google to pay news outlets for using their content. However, in doing so, it also prevented users from seeing posts on the Pages of entities like Doctors without Borders, St. Vincent's Health, the Bureau of Meteorology, Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA, and the health department Pages for ACT, South Australia, NSW and Queensland -- all of which are clearly non-media accounts.
Extremely concerning to find this morning that @StVincentsMelb’s Facebook page has been blocked - this during a pandemic and on the eve of crucial COVID vaccine distribution. We hope this situation can be rectified very shortly.
— St Vincent's Health (@StVHealthAust) February 17, 2021
Update: It looks like our MSF Australia #Facebook page has been blocked as part of Facebook's news ban today
— MSF Australia (@MSFAustralia) February 17, 2021
Facebook's news ban hammer having a lot of collateral damage. pic.twitter.com/mP4pfd3nL5
— Josh Taylor (@joshgnosis) February 17, 2021
Facebook told Engadget that those organizations weren't supposed to be affected. Apparently, it had taken a broad definition of the proposed law, as it didn't provide a clear guidance of the definition of news content. The spokesperson said:
"Government and non-news Pages should not be impacted by today’s announcement. The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content. As the law does not provide a clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted."
Most of the affected Pages have since been restored after working with the company, and it sounds like any other non-media organization that's been impacted will get back access to their accounts.
Google and Facebook have been in conflict with the Australian government ever since the country started working on the law that would make payments to news organizations mandatory. Facebook previously said that it wouldn't be able to offer news as a product anymore, so this move doesn't come as a surprise. As for Google, it told the Australian Senate at a hearing that if the proposal becomes a law, it would have "no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”