Internet

Facebook Australian news ban hits WA election campaign as Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup’s page wiped, Premier’s untouched


WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup’s Facebook page has been hit by Facebook’s nationwide ban on news content, but Premier Mark McGowan’s page appears to be untouched — three weeks out from an election.

Visitors to Mr Kirkup’s page could only see his photo and a notice reading “No posts yet” in his feed.

Western Australian emergency services pages were also affected by Facebook’s move, including the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).

DFES’ page was restored before 10:00am.

The department said in a statement it had been “working with the team at Facebook”, and while the social media giant was a “valuable tool” to communicate emergency information, “the best source of information” was the Emergency WA website.

The Bureau of Meteorology also lost its content on Facebook, preventing it from sharing weather warnings with followers of its page, but it has also been restored.

Screenshot of the top of a Facebook page
Content on the Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA’s Facebook page has been removed.(Facebook)

Curtin University Professor of Internet Studies Tama Leaver said the repercussions of removing content from emergency and essential information pages were “dire.”

“Removing emergency services notifications in a time when bushfires are rife and other things are happening seems like a very bad idea,” he said.

Politicians, local councils affected

Local councils were also caught up in the crackdown.

City of Perth’s Facebook page was among those with content removed, but it too has now been restored.

On Twitter, Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas said it was “outrageous.”

His official Lord Mayor’s page was also affected.

But not all local council pages were affected, including the City of Bayswater, City of Rockingham and the Town of Cottesloe, which all appeared to have the ability to post.

Content on the WA Police page and Healthy WA remained throughout.

The WA Government’s Facebook page and Healthy WA still appeared normal on Facebook this morning.

The Facebook pages of Ministers including Ben Wyatt and Sue Ellery did not appear to have been affected.

Mr Kirkup initially appeared to make light of the removal of his page.

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But in a statement, he said it was very disappointing Facebook removed his page just weeks from an election.

He said he was working with the social media platform to have the “error” fixed as quickly as possible.

“Facebook’s decision to treat my page as a news source clearly shows that people were relying on the information that we were posting.”

WA Premier condemns Facebook

Mr McGowan said Facebook’s decision was both inappropriate and dangerous, and every political candidate should have their page restored.

“It is totally wrong what they are doing,” he said.

“They’ve obviously spat the dummy. They are behaving more like North Korea than an American company.”

The WA Liberal, Labor and Greens parties all have their content available.

The Nationals WA said it opposed Facebook’s move and were reconsidering how they would use Facebook-owned platforms and advertising in the future.

“The censorship of our valuable regional news media organisations is an affront to our democratic process, particularly during an election period and is an insult to our hard working local journalists,” the party said in a statement.

A head and shoulder shot of DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm
DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm says Facebook’s actions are disappointing.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)

DFES Commissioner Darren Klemm said he was disappointed the department’s page was caught up in Facebook’s action, given it was used to inform the public about emergencies and warnings.

He told ABC Radio Perth DFES had been in touch with Facebook this morning.

“They’ve assured us that it was a mistake,” he said.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said Facebook’s decision to ban news content from its platform could potentially hinder emergency services.

Mr Dawson told ABC Radio Perth the social media site has often helped police operations.

“We’ve found children literally that are lost or people that are suffering from dementia wandering around, found them — sometimes within minutes — because people go ‘oh I’ve seen that person’ and that’s really valuable,” he said.

“Equally so when there’s been crimes or natural disasters.”

Facebook claims misunderstood relationship

Facebook said it made the move in response to the Federal Government’s proposed media bargaining laws, which would force major tech giants to pay Australian news outlets for their content.

It says it is now also preventing people overseas from sharing Australian content on the social media site.

The social media giant said the proposed Australian law fundamentally misunderstood the relationship between their platform and publishers who use it to share news content.

It said it faced the stark choice between attempting to comply with a law, or banning news content on its services in Australia — and “with a heavy heart” it was choosing the latter.

But Professor Leaver warned the move could backfire “quite terribly” and users might decide to switch off Facebook and head straight to search engines or specific websites for information.

“I think there’s a lot of appetite for holding Facebook more accountable in the last few years,” he said.

He said some people may find it could have a big impact, while others could come to realise Facebook has become “less and less relevant.”

Profile of Tama Leaver, Associate Professor in Internet Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.
Professor Tama Leaver says Facebook is gambling on a high-stakes game of poker.(ABC News: Gian De Poloni)

Professor Leaver said it would be interesting to see if either the Federal Government or Facebook blinked first, or alternatively if this change could become a new normal.

“The impact and the reach for news producers will be quite significant,” he said, adding that lots of news organisation used Facebook as a key avenue to engage with their audiences.

He said he hoped Facebook would post messages to inform people that the emergency information had been deliberately removed, to avoid a false sense of security.



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