Facebook accused of deliberately blocking government websites to prevent passing law

Facebook accused of deliberately blocking government websites to prevent passing law

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In 2021, amid a pandemic, Facebook deliberately blocked some pages of the Australian government, hospitals and emergency services in order to influence a law to be passed by Canberra, according to information published on Thursday, May 5 by Wall Street magazine.

In February of that year, the Australian government tried to demand that the digital giants pay for the journalistic content displayed on their pages. Google backed down, but Facebook – now renamed Meta – stood up a week before the law was passed, restricting access to articles and videos from many Australian and international newspapers in response. By the way, the social network also blocks the pages of government agencies that provide 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 a full period of fires and floods.

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These blockages were then characterized as“involuntary” from Facebook, were in fact intentional, according to the observations of several informants revealed by Wall Street magazine. According to their testimonies and company internal documents, which were submitted to the United States Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, these publications were the result of a deliberate and deliberate strategy implemented by the platform.

Documents provided by complainants show that several Facebook employees tried to escalate the issue

While showing its desire to block only the press, Facebook would have used a ranking algorithm that the company was well aware would affect many other publications. Documents provided by the complainants show that several Facebook employees tried to escalate the problem and offer solutions, but the team in charge of the posts would have responded in a minimalist way or with very long delays.

Following these internal reports, Facebook did not stop its announcement campaign: on the contrary, the latter quickly spread to all Australian users of the platform, while only 50% of them were there in the early morning hours. An unusual sign of willingness, according to Wall Street magazinewhich points out that the company is usually much slower and more careful when presenting new features. “It was clear that we were not complying with the law, but that we were hitting public institutions and emergency services. “, Testified a member of the team responsible for the deletions.

Facebook executives know

According to the American newspaper, the aim was to put maximum pressure on the Australian Parliament before the vote on the law that requires payment for press articles on digital platforms.

Five days after the first posts, the law went to the polls as scheduled, but its text was amended in favor of Facebook, according to changes made the previous day by the social network and the government. If the original version of the text had been approved, the company would have been forced to negotiate with all the publishers, under the supervision of the State. However, these amendments have allowed her to deal with the media of her choice on a case-by-case basis: since then, Facebook has negotiated thirteen compensation agreements with publishers, according to a company representative cited by Wall Street magazine.

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Immediately after concluding its agreement with the Australian government, Facebook unblocked access to government websites, according to internal company documents. A change that would require only a small modification of three lines of computer code, according to Wall Street magazine. As a further indication of a deliberate strategy, within minutes of the vote in Parliament, Facebook Collaboration Director Campbell Brown sent an email to Facebook groups announcing their success: “It simply came to our notice then. » The company’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, and number two, Sheryl Sandberg, also greeted the company in writing, M.my Sandberg greeting it “execution accuracy” of this strategy.

In response to the investigation of the American newspaper, a representative of Facebook denies the accusations against the company. ” These documents clearly show that we intended to exempt government pages from restrictions in order to minimize the impact of this harmful and erroneous legislation. (…) We were unable to do this due to a technical error, we apologize for this and we are working to resolve this issue. Any claim to the contrary would be categorically and clearly false. »

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