Facebook deliberately blocked Australian emergency services pages during the fire season and vaccine deployment in Australia, according to a WSJ investigation.

According to the whistleblowers, Facebook used the blocking as a negotiating tactic over a dispute over payment to news providers. Facebook says blocking these pages was a mistake.

 

The blocking took place amid a dispute

Former employees say the company intentionally blocked Australian websites at a critical time to put pressure on the Australian government.

The controversy began in February last year, when lawmakers voted a bill that would have forced social networks to pay news organizations for the content they used on their platforms.

The day after the first vote, Facebook took down all news pages in Australia, and many that had nothing to do with news. Within days, the government reached an agreement with the tech giant and the ban was lifted.

Documents provided by the whistleblowers show that the company did not use a list of news organizations, but built an algorithm that tagged any page that shared 60% news content as a news provider.

“The documents in question clearly show that we intended to exempt Australian government websites from restrictions in an effort to minimize the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation.“, reads a statement from Facebook.

“When we are unable to do as planned due to a technical error, we apologize and work to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.”

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