A group of whistleblowers say Facebook’s five-day shutdown of news content providers deliberately ‘overcrowded’ local governments
A group of whistleblowers accuses Facebook of deliberately blocking the websites of Australian hospitals and emergency services as part of a bargaining tactic last year.
The social network owned by Silicon Valley tech giant Meta was pushing to weaken a bill requiring it to pay news providers in Australia when it blocked all such content from its platform in February 2021.
But the algorithm also blocked other websites in what the company called accidental, telling AFP on Friday that “any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.”
“We intended to exempt Australian Government Pages from the restrictions in an effort to minimize the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation,” a spokesperson for Meta said.
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“When we couldn’t do it as planned due to a technical error, we apologized and worked to correct it.”
However, the US organization Whistleblower Aid claimed it was actually a Meta scheme in documents filed with the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, first reported in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
The organization said in a statement that Facebook’s five-day shutdown of news content providers deliberately “over-blocked” local governments, health services and other sites that provided support to vulnerable people.
The intention was to force the government to weaken the bill, the group said.
“This was not just an example of a corporate actor behaving recklessly,” said Libby Liu, head of Whistleblower Aid.
“Facebook intentionally put lives at risk to protect its bottom line.”
Shortly after the blackout, Australia passed a law requiring Facebook to negotiate with news content providers, but politicians watered down some of the more onerous proposals.