Several Australian emergency services were hit by Facebook’s local ban on news content Thursday, with pages that warn the public about COVID-19 outbreaks, bushfires and cyclones rendered blank.
Fire, health and meteorological services around the country saw problems with their Facebook pages, amid several serious public emergencies.
The accounts were affected as Facebook moved to block news content in the country, with the government poised to adopt legislation that would force digital platforms to pay for news content.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley confirmed the government’s Bureau of Meteorology’s page “has been impacted by the sudden Facebook news content restrictions”, urging people to visit the website instead.
This happened as the bureau issued a series of flash flooding warnings for parts of Queensland state after heavy rainfall overnight.
The Western Australia fire department’s Facebook page was also wiped clean as the state braced for “catastrophic fire danger” conditions.
Western Australian MP Madeleine King described the situation as “Incredible. Unbelievable. Unacceptable” and there were mounting calls for Facebook to quickly fix the situation.
At least three state health departments, which issue regular updates on the coronavirus pandemic to hundreds of thousands of Australians, were also affected.
Several government accounts in the Australian Capital Territory — which incorporates the national capital Canberra — were affected, along with its health department.
“The ACT Government account is verified by Facebook and we have contacted them to rectify the situation,” a spokesperson said.
“The ACT Health Facebook page in particular is an important channel for distributing information about the COVID-19 situation.”
The national sexual assault and domestic violence service, some charities and even Facebook’s own page also appeared blank to users in Australia.
Facebook’s response contrasted with Google, which in recent days has brokered deals with media groups — including one announced earlier in the day with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — in response to the regulatory push.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Thursday he had agreed with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg “to try to find a pathway forward”.
The country of 25 million has between 16 and 18 million daily users, according to local media.