Content payment dispute: Facebook blocks Australia pages; users barred from viewing or sharing news

Sydney: Facebook has blocked Australian users from sharing or viewing news content on the platform, causing much alarm over public access to key information.

Australians woke to empty news feeds on their Facebook Inc pages on Thursday after the social media giant blocked all media content in a surprise and dramatic escalation of a dispute with the government over paying for content.

The move was swiftly criticised by news producers, politicians and human rights advocates, particularly as it became clear that official health pages, emergency safety warnings and welfare networks had all been scrubbed from the site along with news.

Facebook’s dramatic move represents a split from Alphabet Inc-owned Google after they joined together for years to campaign against the laws. Both had threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google has instead sealed preemptive deals with several outlets in recent days.

The social media giant said it made the decision in response to the news media bargaining code currently before the Senate, which would force Facebook and Google to negotiate with news companies for payment for content.

While the ban was only meant to target Australian news publishers, dozens of pages run by key government agencies, community pages, union pages, charity organisations and politicians were also blocked for several hours.

Australia’s main source of weather information, the Bureau of Meteorology, said on Thursday morning that it had been blocked, and was advising users to go to its direct website, app or Twitter page.

A number of Australian Capital Territory government pages were also caught up in Facebook’s action.

By midday on Thursday, some pages had been restored including those run by BoM and the state health departments.

Just weeks out from the Western Australian election, the state’s opposition leader, Zak Kirkup, also was blocked, while incumbent premier Mark McGowan’s page remained unaffected.

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