Facebook blocks health, emergency pages

Facebook is copping backlash for blocking the pages of some state and territory health authorities, emergency services and the Bureau of Meteorology amid its ban on Australians sharing news.

Queensland, SA and ACT Health, the WA Fire and Emergency Services were among the pages blocked as the tech giant followed through on its threat to restrict news sharing news on its platform in response to a proposed media bargaining code.

The pages, which provide crucial government health and weather information and alerts, were blocked on Thursday morning.

The Tasmanian and ACT government pages are also blocked, along with the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service 1800 Respect, which is web-based.

Queensland Treasurer Cameron Dick is outraged by Facebook’s move.

“This is nuts. Queenslanders need access to accurate and trustworthy sources for health information,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Facebook is blocking access to the @qldhealthnews in the middle of a pandemic.

“This needs to be fixed.”

A Queensland government spokesman told AAP that Facebook is trying to get the page back online.

South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade also took to Twitter to lash the social media company.

“To restrict the dissemination of important public health information during a global pandemic is absolutely unacceptable. I urge @Facebook to immediately reverse this decision,” he wrote.

SA Health said it had asked Facebook to rectify the situation. 

Comment has been sought from the West Australian government.

More than 600,000 people follow the Queensland Health page and more than 307,000 follow the SA Health page.

Almost 52,000 people follow the ACT Health Facebook page while the WA Fire and Emergency Services page is followed by more than 301,000 people.

The Bureau of Meteorology page provides weather updates and severe weather and flood alerts to more than 909,000 users.

The forecaster urged people to check its website, app and Twitter accounts while its Facebook page is down.

Facebook posted a brief message to users on its platform, explaining the change.

“In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news pages in Australia,” the note read. 

“Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

Human Rights Watch warned that Facebook’s move was dangerous.

“It’s not only news sites, but health department pages that share essential Covid-19 updates, emergency services and small Indigenous community pages are affected,” spokesperson Sophie McNeill said in a statement. 

“This is an alarming and dangerous turn of events. Cutting off access to vital information to an entire country in the dead of the night is unconscionable. 

“(Facebook co-founder and chairman) Mark Zuckerberg has publicly stated that he doesn’t think it’s right for a private company to censor the news and Human Rights Watch agrees.

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