Facebook, the Australian Government and Me

“Thank you for reaching out. In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted. We are working on restoring any pages that have been restricted in error.”

That was the email I got yesterday from Facebook’s help centre after Facebook put a blanket ban on Australians accessing news on their platform. They acted in advance of the Australian government’s proposed legislation or new media code requiring that Facebook pay for news content after the Australian branch of the Rupert Murdoch empire News corp kicked up a stink over lost advertising revenue. The government chose to include a very broad definition of ‘media’ to include any and all publications. Facebook then took that definition and went ahead with the ban.

We can’t see any news at all on Facebook. Not only Australian news, but all international news as well. My newsfeed is now so incredibly dull I can scarcely be bothered scrolling.

Without any warning, Australians woke up to discover their Facebook pages had been removed or their page content wiped. Emergency services and health advice pages were quickly restored when it became apparent Facebook had overreached. But for authors like me who have a website where they showcase their books and reviews and more, the ban is still in place.

My Facebook page has been wiped of all content and I cannot post there any more. I unable to share a link to my website on my Facebook profile, and I cannot share it in any Facebook group. Neither can any other Australian. If I get an overseas friend to post my website link in one of my Facebook groups or anywhere on Facebook, I and no other Australian can see the post. All because my author website has been deemed an Australian publication.

It feels so extreme. This sudden and dramatic action by Facebook brings home how vulnerable ordinary citizens are. We rely on tech giants in a vast array of ways. And the landscape can change with the flick of a switch and suddenly, what we treated as a basic human right of sorts, has gone.

What really gets me riled is this situation that ordinary Australians are in is entirely the result of an advertising-revenue battle between the Murdoch empire, our rather bullish and myopic government, and a tech giant majoring in zero empathy. We are just collateral.