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Health, weather pages hit as tech giant throws baby out with the bathwater

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ensure people can still get information from official sources in the wake of Facebook’s ban on Australian news content.

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The Facebook pages of Queensland Health and the Bureau of Meteorology were today blocked, restricting their ability to pass on information about the pandemic, for example, or the flood situation in north Queensland.

The pages of Brisbane City Council, Energex and TransLink were also affected, along with some health agencies in other states.

Late this morning, Queensland Health’s page was made available again, however other pages remained blacked out.

Palaszczuk today said she was “very concerned” that Facebook’s ban on news being posted or shared in Australia had adverse impacts on other sources.

“They should not be caught up in this ban,” Palaszczuk said, in a news conference live-streamed on her Facebook page.

While the Premier sought to avoid commenting on the news ban itself, she called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to “see sense and sort this issue out quickly”.

“You cannot have vital information not getting to people when that is where they go to get their source of information,” Palaszczuk said.

“It needs to be fixed up today.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Facebook’s actions were wrong, heavy-handed, and would damage its reputation, but the Federal Government would not back down on its new media bargaining code.

Queensland Health and the Department of Premier and Cabinet were lobbying Facebook to resolve the issue. A Facebook company spokesperson reportedly said “government pages should not be impacted” and it was taking steps to restore access to “any pages that are inadvertently impacted”.

The pandemic has drawn people to official health sources. By the middle of 2020, Queensland Health was reaching more than 20 million people on Facebook every week, with almost four million post engagements.

In January 2021 alone, during a lockdown and travel restrictions, the department’s content was seen 65,680,207 times, received 6,448,305 engagements and had 83,867 clicks.

Queensland Health’s executive director of strategic communications, Robert Hoge, said Facebook was a “significant” part of its information strategy, and losing access ahead of the COVID-19 vaccination program was a concern.

“I applaud Facebook for taking action against anti-vaxxers, Pete Evans and other peddlers of harmful views and conspiracies, however they got this one wrong,” Hoge said.

“While our social media platforms have a better reach than many news services, and are more reliable, we are in fact not a news service. Facebook should fix this urgently.”

Queensland Health, like the Bureau of Meteorology, has urged people to go directly to its website for information.

Non-government organisations have also been caught up in the ban, including the RACQ and the domestic violence campaign ‘Small Steps 4 Hannah’ – on the eve of the one year-anniversary of the murders of Hannah Clarke and her children.

Even Facebook’s own Facebook page was blacked out this morning.

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