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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Facebook news ban leaves community organisations in the lurch

The broad, blanket news ban implemented by Facebook at 6am yesterday, 18 February, saw the feeds of scores of community organisations and businesses that aren’t news providers temporarily blocked.

While many of those pages have since been reinstated, some, like Domestic Violence Crisis Service (DVCS) ACT, still haven’t as at 12.45pm today, Friday 19 February.

DVCS interim general manager Glenda Stevens said their Facebook page stopped displaying posts “around 10am on Thursday morning (18 February)”.

“We have made multiple requests to Facebook via a variety of channels seeking our page be totally reinstated. To date we have not received any response,” Ms Stevens said.

“The DVCS Facebook page is not a news platform, nor is it affiliated with any news sites. From time to time we share relevant articles and stories on our Facebook page from a range of news outlets.

“The matter is particularly concerning given members of the community use the DVCS ACT Facebook page to access safety planning tips, referrals and other information.

“Many choose to use our Facebook page instead of other online platforms as they find it safer,” Ms Stevens said.

“Clients often seek direct support via our Facebook page. Having the page blocked is potentially increasing danger for some people.”

screen grab of Domestic Violence Crisis Service Facebook page blocked by Facebook
As at 12.45pm today, the Facebook page of Domestic Violence Crisis Support ACT was still blocked, with many clients often seeking support from the organisation via their social media channels.

On Twitter yesterday, peak body National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) expressed “extreme concern” they had been blocked by Facebook Australia.

“This is a human rights issue, silencing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, our representative peak bodies. This is how we connect with community,” they tweeted.

Alongside DVCS ACT and NATSILS, other organisations spanning in range from World Wildlife Fund Australia, ACT Policing, AFLW and even Harvey Norman were momentarily blocked on 18 February.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) were highly critical of Facebook’s implementation of their news ban, which saw some community organisations around the country unable to post and share information.

ACTCOSS acting CEO Craig Wallace said he found the muffling of community organisations by the social media platform “concerning”.

“Here in the ACT, we have become aware that a number of pages which provide essential information on legal advice, disability advocacy and tenancy support to people at risk of homelessness have had their posts removed,” he said.

“Information posted to these pages can be vital to the safety of people experiencing disadvantage and people on low incomes.

“The arbitrary removal of essential information needed to keep people safe and supported in the middle of a pandemic without notice is completely outrageous. We call on Facebook to immediately restore these pages and our sector’s ability to communicate important information.”

Facebook Australia and New Zealand managing director William Easton released a statement on 17 February regarding the ban, and said the move to block Australian sites will “restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content”.

The obstruction comes in response to the Australian Government proposing a new Media Bargaining law, which would require Facebook to pay news outlets for content.

Mr Easton said the proposed law “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between Facebook and publishers who use it to share news content.

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia,” he said.

“With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

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