Facebook accused of deliberately blocking government pages to prevent the passage of a law

In 2021, in the midst of a pandemic, Facebook intentionally blocked some Australian government pages, hospitals and emergency services in order to influence a law that was about to be passed by Canberra, according to information published Thursday, May 5 by The Wall Street Magazine.

In February of that year, the Australian government sought to require the digital giants to pay for journalistic content that appeared on their pages. Google capitulated, but Facebook – now renamed Meta – halted a week before the law was passed, and restricted access to articles and videos from several Australian and international newspapers in response. By the way, the social network also blocks pages of government bodies providing information about the Covid-19 epidemic and several pages of information about natural disasters, a few days before the start of the national vaccination campaign and in the full season of fires and floods.

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These handicaps qualify at that time as“involuntary” by Facebook, it was actually intentional, according to the notes of several whistleblowers he exposed Wall Street Magazine. According to their testimonies and internal company documents, which were submitted to the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, these deployments were the result of a well-thought-out strategy implemented by the platform.

Documents provided by the whistleblower show that several Facebook employees tried to escalate the problem

While demonstrating its desire to exclusively ban members of the press, Facebook could have used a screening algorithm that the company knows well will affect many other posts. Documents provided by the whistleblower show that many Facebook employees tried to escalate the problem and provide solutions, but the team responsible for the deployments would have answered them in a simple way or at very long delays.

After these internal reports, Facebook did not stop its campaign from publishing: on the contrary, the latter was quickly circulated to all Australian users of the platform, while there were only 50% of them. I encountered them in the early hours. An unusual sign of passion, according to Wall Street Magazineindicating that the company is usually much slower and more cautious when rolling out new features. “It was clear that we are not complying with the law but that we are hitting public institutions and emergency services ‘,” a member of the team responsible for the deletions testified.

Facebook officials are aware

According to the US newspaper, the goal was to put maximum pressure on the Australian parliament before voting on a law requiring that journalistic articles be rewarded on digital platforms.

Five days after the first publications, the law was passed to a vote as planned, but its text was modified in a way favorable to Facebook, according to changes negotiated the day before between the social network and the government. Had the initial version of the text been approved, the company would have had to enter into negotiations with all of the publishers, under state supervision. However, those modifications have allowed it to deal on a case-by-case basis with the media of its choice: Since then, Facebook has negotiated thirteen compensation agreements with newspaper publishers, according to a company spokesperson quoted by The Guardian. Wall Street Magazine.

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Immediately after sealing its deal with the Australian government, Facebook unblocked access to government pages, according to internal company documents. according to Wall Street Magazine. As further evidence of a thoughtful strategy, within minutes of the Parliament vote, Facebook’s Director of Partnerships, Campbell Brown, sent an email to Facebook teams touting their success: “We got exactly where we wanted it to be.” The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, as well as its number two, Sheryl Sandberg, also welcomed the transaction in writing, M.me Sandberg salutes Execution accuracy of this strategy.

In response to the US newspaper’s investigation, a Facebook spokesperson denied the charges against the company. ” These documents make it clear that we intend to exempt government pages from restrictions to reduce the impact of this harmful and misleading legislation. (…) We were unable to achieve this due to a technical error, we apologize for that, and we are working to resolve this issue. Any claim otherwise would be categorically and clearly false. »

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