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Facebook intentionally took down a number of Australian government pages last year in an attempt to influence the passage of a law that would make tech giants pay to host news articles, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In February 2021, the social media giant blocked access to news content for users in Australia as Australian lawmakers began debating the law, which Facebook and other big tech firms opposed.
But the move also blocked access to a number of pages belonging to hospitals, emergency services and charities – including the Children’s Cancer Institute, Doctors Without Borders in Australia and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services for Western Australia.
At the time, the company said the move was “inadvertent” but whistleblowers told the newspaper this week that it was deliberate, adding that Facebook shut down the pages to gain leverage over Australian authorities discussing the new legislation.
Documents and those affiliated with the case noted that the firm used a filtering algorithm that it knew would impact others besides news outlets. When Facebook employees alerted company executives about the issue, they received little or no response.
Australia’s parliament eventually passed a watered-down version of the law. Following the vote, Facebook leadership wrote in an internal email that the company “landed exactly where we wanted to.”
The testimony of the whistleblowers as well as internal Facebook records have been turned over to the US Department of Justice and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Meanwhile, big tech representatives called the allegations “categorically and obviously false,” reiterating that the closure of pages was “a technical error.”