Remember when Mark Zuckerberg, that dude who changed our lives with the invention of Facebook, zucked us all by blocking Aussie news sites from the platform last year? As someone who works in publishing, it’s a day that lives rent-free in my mind.
Anyway, do you also remember when as part of that move, Facebook happened to block Australian hospitals, emergency services and charities from posting on the platform too? In February 2021? In the middle of a fucking pandemic? Same.
At the time of the closure — which was in response to potential legislation that would make platforms pay publishers for content — Facebook said that the willy nilly behaviour of blocking hospitals, charities and emergency service pages was “inadvertent”.
But now a report from Wall Street Journal is saying it was actually strategic. And just when you thought you couldn’t get zucked over any more than you already have…
“Facebook documents and testimony filed to US and Australian authorities by whistleblowers allege that the social-media giant deliberately created an overly broad and sloppy process to take down pages — allowing swathes of the Australian government and health services to be caught in its web just as the country was launching Covid vaccinations,” it read.
Heavens to Betsy.
Basically there are a bunch of emails (which you can see here) that suggest the chaos was anything but accidental. Emails from whistleblowers include alleged correspondence by COO Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg and Facebook’s Head of Partnerships, Campbell Brown. Comments include Brown saying, “We landed exactly where we wanted to” and Sandberg praising the “thoughtfulness of the strategy” and “precision of execution”.
Wall Street Journal alleges that closing these pages was a way for Facebook to have negotiating power over the Australian parliament. “Despite saying it was targeting only news outlets, the company deployed an algorithm for deciding what pages to take down that it knew was certain to affect more than publishers, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter,” the report said.
In news that will surprise precisely no one, Facebook has denied these allegations.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told Wall Street Journal: “The documents in question clearly show that we intended to exempt Australian government pages from restrictions in an effort to minimise the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation.”
Stone added: “When we were unable to do so as intended due to a technical error, we apologised and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.”
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