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Facebook Hampered Vital Aussie Services To Influence Legislation

A number of internal documents given to US and Australian authorities by whistleblowers show that when Facebook blocked all news pages in Australia last year, as a pre-emptive hit against proposed legislation that would make them pay for such content, it deliberately took down the pages of emergency services, charities, hospitals, and other vital services.

At the time, it called such collateral damage “inadvertent”, but testimonies and documents show that it was part of a move to pressure the Australian Parliament into amending the proposed law to be more favourable to the social media companies involved.

It was hailed within Facebook as a success.

“We landed exactly where we wanted to — and that was only possible because this team was genius enough to pull it off in zero time,” emailed Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of partnerships mere minutes after the amended bill was approved in the Senate last February.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg was also impressed. “The thoughtfulness of the strategy, precision of execution, and ability to stay nimble as things evolved sets a new high-standard,” she wrote.

“We were able to execute quickly and take a principled approach for our community around the world, while achieving what might be the best possible outcome in Australia,” added Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebook has, of course, denied such nefarious motives.

“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,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone.

“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.”

One whistleblower who worked on the project said of the ploy: “It was clear this was not us complying with the law, but a hit on civic institutions and emergency services in Australia.”

Rod Sims, former chair of the ACCC said, of the chaos that ensued, “I gave them the benefit of the doubt that they just overshot.

“It’s either a conspiracy they did it deliberately, or they got it wrong and mucked it up, and I was assuming the latter.”

He also feels the bill was not watered down, and that Facebook, not the Australian Government, were the ones to back down.

“It’s been a massive turnaround by them,” he said.

“It’s interesting they’re patting themselves on the back.”

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