News Public info pages caught up in Facebook’s sweeping news ban
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Public info pages caught up in Facebook’s sweeping news ban

Facebook has blocked the pages of Queensland Health and SA Health amid a row over proposed media ownership laws.
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Official state health pages, the Bureau of Meteorology and WA Fire and Emergency are among many official public information pages blocked on Facebook after the social media giant banned Australians sharing news.

The pages, many of which provide crucial government health and weather information and alerts, were blocked on Thursday morning as Facebook followed through on its threat to restrict Australians sharing news on its platform in response to a proposed media bargaining code.

Users can still access vital information on the respective websites, just not via Facebook.

Queensland Health and SA Health were both hit by the ban. A Queensland government spokesman said the matter would be investigated and Facebook would be contacted.

South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade also took to Twitter to lash the social media company.

“To restrict the dissemination of important public health information during a global pandemic is absolutely unacceptable. I urge @Facebook to immediately reverse this decision,” he wrote.

SA Health said it had asked Facebook to rectify the situation.

More than 600,000 people follow the Queensland Health page and more than 307,000 follow the SA Health page.

Almost 52,000 people follow the ACT Health Facebook page while the WA Fire and Emergency Services page is followed by more than 301,000 people.

The Bureau of Meteorology page provides weather updates and severe weather and flood alerts to more than 909,000 users.

Thursday’s ban of official public information sites came amid catastrophic fire danger forecast for parts of Western Australia, and flooding rain expected in far north Queensland.

The forecaster urged people to check its website, app and Twitter accounts while its Facebook page was down.

The Tasmanian and ACT government pages were also blocked, along with the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service 1800 Respect, which is web-based.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick was outraged by Facebook’s move.

“This is nuts. Queenslanders need access to accurate and trustworthy sources for health information,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Facebook is blocking access to the @qldhealthnews in the middle of a pandemic.

“This needs to be fixed.”

The federal government wants tech giants such as Facebook and Google to pay for content reposted from news outlets.

Facebook followed through on its threat to ban Australians sharing news on its platform in response to the proposed media bargaining code. It passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday night and is expected to pass the Senate with bipartisan support.

Under Facebook’s ban, Australian users and publishers are also restricted from sharing or viewing domestic and international news.

Facebook posted a brief message to users on its platform, explaining the change.

“In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news pages in Australia,” it read.

“Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

Human Rights Watch warned that Facebook’s move was dangerous.

“It’s not only news sites, but health department pages that share essential COVID-19 updates, emergency services and small Indigenous community pages are affected,” spokesperson Sophie McNeill said.

“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable.

“[Facebook co-founder and chairman] Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that he doesn’t think it’s right for a private company to censor the news and Human Rights Watch agrees.”

-with AAP