Social media giant Facebook deliberately took down several pages of Australian hospitals, emergency services and charities to pressure the country as its lawmakers discussed a law that would make tech giants pay to host news articles.
According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook deliberately blocked access to pages of hospitals, emergency services, weather services, and charities for users in response to potential legislation making platforms pay publishers for content.
Facebook documents and testimony filed to the US and Australian authorities by whistleblowers alleged that the tech giant deliberately had created a vague and lax process to take down pages of Australian government and health services. The company had deployed an algorithm to decide on what pages to take down that affect more than publishers.
Last year in February, Facebook had tried waging war with Australia ever since the latter came up with legislation that would require social media giants like Facebook and Google to pay news outlets.
Angered over this proposed legislation, Facebook had also cut off Australia by cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services. However, at the time of the fallout, the tech giant had termed it as “inadvertent,” but whistleblowers have now revealed that the move was a deliberate step to try and gain leverage over Australian authorities discussing the new law.
“It was clear this was not us complying with the law, but a hit on civic institutions and emergency services in Australia,” a Facebook employee who worked on the project told The Journal.
A Facebook spokesperson has also revealed that the documents in question clearly show that the company intended to exempt Australian government pages from restrictions to minimise the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation.
“When we were unable to do so as intended due to a technical error, we apologised and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false,” the spokesperson said.
The report suggested that Facebook created and imposed a filtering algorithm that it knew would affect more pages than just news outlets. The tech giant was aware that the process was so vague that it would hit government pages and did not want to try to define what news was as it feared it would breach the law.
The journal also said that the Facebook employees attempted to point out the issue to the team leaders overseeing the project but were met with a cold response.
A few weeks later, Australia’s parliament passed an amended version of the law. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg had reportedly praised the executives for their “thoughtfulness of the strategy” and “precision of execution”.
The whistleblowers’ accounts and the internal Facebook documents have now been submitted to the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, The Journal reported.