Facebook on Thursday blocked the sharing of a lot of news content on its platform in Australia, a gesture immediately denounced which risks leading to a proliferation in the country of false information circulating on the social network.
“Facebook must consider the implications of this draconian measure, immediately reacted the International Federation of Journalists, not only on its users whom it claims to serve, but also on the public’s right to accurate and factual information during a global pandemic. . »
“By limiting independent and professionally produced news in Australia, Facebook is enabling the promotion of conspiracy theories, followers [du mouvement conspirationniste] QAnon, disinformation and fake news on its platform,” lambasted the chairman of the Australian Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, Marcus Strom.
When they woke up on Thursday, Australians were unable to post links to news articles or check the Facebook pages of local or international media. And people living overseas no longer had access to Australian news.
The first social network in the world thus wanted to respond to an Australian government bill which aims to force it, like Google, to remunerate the media for the recovery of their content. This retaliatory measure quickly angered many Australians on the platform.
The pages of associations fighting against cancer or helping the homeless appeared as empty, as did those of large companies. Official pages of the emergency services used to alert the population in the event of forest fires, floods or epidemics have also been inadvertently affected. The social network has nevertheless activated to restore them.
On the other hand, several pages at the origin of conspiracy theories and misinformation were not affected by this blocking. Among them, several pages were identified by AFP’s fact-checking team as sharing false claims with tens of thousands of users.
By limiting independent and professionally produced news in Australia, Facebook enables the promotion of conspiracy theories, followers [du mouvement conspirationniste] QAnon, disinformation and fake news on its platform.
” Think carefully “
For the NGO Reset Australia, which campaigns for digital democracy, the blocking of established Australian media has revealed “how little the platform cares about ending disinformation”.
Faced with the outcry caused by the measure, a spokesperson for Facebook maintained that “his company’s commitment to combating misinformation has not changed”. “We are directing people to authoritative health information and notifying them of updates via our COVID-19 information center,” said the American giant, which has hired around 60 digital verification organizations including AFP to across the planet.
The blocking of Facebook came days before the start of the vaccination campaign in Australia, sparking fears that messages delivered by health authorities would be drowned out among those from vaccine opponents.
“I repeat to Facebook, think carefully. You may be there [présents] for the money, but we are all in it for the safety, protection and responsibility,” said Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt. “Now is the time to go back to where you came from when you, as a company, were supposed to be about community, about commitment and not about money,” he added.
Facebook claimed to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Australian media from user clicks. The company, however, has for some time been criticized for its lack of urgency to end violence, hate speech and misinformation.
In January, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he was seeking to “lower the temperature” by limiting long-welcomed provocative political debates. The social network has also taken steps to ban groups sharing false information about COVID-19 and to promote advice from official and reliable bodies.
Facebook’s reaction contrasts with that of Google, which on Wednesday agreed to pay “significant sums” in return for content from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation press group.