A number of commonwealth and state government agencies have had their Facebook pages restored after mistakenly being deleted by the company as part of its nationwide news removal on Thursday.
On Thursday morning all news content was removed from the social media platform in Australia, in response to the government’s proposed media bargaining code which Facebook has argued “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content”.
While Facebook pages of media companies remain on the platform, all of their posts have now been deleted, and news cannot be posted or shared.
But it didn’t take long for Australians to realise that a number of government agencies — including some state health departments, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the Western Australian Department of Fires and Emergency Services — had also been impacted by the media ban.
Many Australians use these pages to receive crucial information on COVID-19 and emergencies, such as bushfires.
At a press conference on Thursday health minister Greg Hunt said the government was “profoundly shocked” by the removal of government health department posts, while Labor senator Murray Watt described the situation as “deeply concerning”.
“While this is a developing situation, it is deeply disturbing that crucial public information has been blocked, leaving Australians’ safety compromised,” Watt said.
“Facebook has become an important tool to share urgent warnings in emergency situations.On a day of flood and fire warnings in Western Australia and Queensland, the decision to remove the Bureau of Meteorology and state emergency services pages from Facebook is alarming and potentially dangerous.”
Facebook released a statement confirming that government pages “should not be impacted by today’s announcement” and would be restored.
“As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted,” it said.
“However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted.”
The impacted government pages began returning to normal by Thursday afternoon, with the BOM even taking the opportunity to encourage people to go directly to its official website or app for forecasts and warnings.
ACT Health also reminded Facebook users of its other channels once its page was up and running again.
“Thanks for your patience while we got our page back up and running. We were just as surprised as everyone else when we realised we’d been affected by the overnight Facebook changes to news content in Australia,” it wrote.
“As you know, most of our information relates to the ACT’s response to COVID-19 and keeping the community safe. Just remember, we do have other online channels such as our webpage www.health.act.gov.au, our twitter account @ACTHealth and of course the COVID-19 page at https://covid19.act.gov.au.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that, despite the disruption, the government would remain “absolutely committed to legislating and implementing the code”, which would force Facebook and Google to pay Australian news publishers for content on their platforms.