'Shocking': Chaos as crucial non-news pages caught up in Facebook shutdown

Following Facebook's decision to restrict Australian users from sharing local and international news content on the platform, several government agencies providing critical information have also had their page feeds wiped.

News organisations, including Yahoo News Australia, had their Facebook feeds stopped on Thursday morning, but so have other integral agencies such as Queensland Health, South Australia Health and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Agencies like these provide up-to-date information on social media in rapidly evolving situations like coronavirus outbreaks and weather emergencies.

Several government agency, emergency and service sites had their news feeds wiped by Facebook until mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Pictured is a thumb hovering over the Facebook app logo.
Facebook has restricted news to Australian users and wiped the feeds of Australian news organisations. Source: EPA

Weather and health Facebook pages shut down

"Facebook has removed the @BOM_au page amidst the shutdown of Australian news pages, and on a day with flooding rain in QLD and catastrophic fire danger in WA," ABC News Breakfast weather presenter Nate Byrne tweeted.

"Warnings need to get to as wide an audience as possible as a matter of safety. Shocking."

The Bureau released a statement to address their Facebook page.

"The Bureau of Meteorology's Facebook page has been impacted by the broader Facebook changes," the statement said.

"The latest forecast and warning information is always available at www.bom.gov.au and on the BOM Weather app."

ABC Radio presenter Selina Green shared a picture of the current state of SA Health's Facebook page.

"I mean, we’re in a pandemic with rapidly changing public information...." she tweeted.

South Australia Government, ACT Government, Western Sydney Health and the Australian Council of Trade Unions are among others to also have their Facebook pages wiped.

ABC Hobart reporter Monte Boville, who tweeted about BoM losing content, also pointed out a Tasmanian business had their posts removed.

A screenshot of South Australia Health's Facebook page with its news feed wiped.
South Australia Health had its content removed from Facebook, along with other agencies and news organisations. Source: SA Health/Facebook

Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Sally McManus tweeted about Facebook removing content from ACTU's Facebook page.

"Australian workers can not now find out about their rights at work via @Facebook. This is disgraceful & needs to be reversed immediately," she tweeted.

Other essential organisations are also impacted, including 1800 Respect, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service and Women's Legal Service Tasmania.

1800 Respect addressed the issue on Twitter, saying it was aware of the issue and representatives and working to correct it.

"We are aware of the issue and our representatives are working to correct it. The 1800RESPECT service is operating as usual. 1800 737 732," the service tweeted.

Facebook to reverse impacted pages

In a statement to Yahoo News Australia, a Facebook spokesperson said government pages should not be impacted by the announcement.

"We will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted," thee spokesperson said.

"The actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

"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. However, we will reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted."

Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk addressed the situation, touching on how Queensland Health's Facebook page and BOM's were impacted.

"I think the Federal Government needs to sort this out quickly," she said.

"You cannot have vital information not getting to people when that is where they go to get their source of information. It needs to be fixed up and it needs to be fixed up today."

Emergency services impacted by Facebook move

Western Australia's Department of Fire and Emergency Service's Facebook page has been impacted, prompting strong criticism from federal MP Madeleine King.

"So Facebook can instantly block @abcpert @6PR @BOM_au @BOM_WA AND @dfes_wa in the middle of the #bushfire season, but they can't take down murderous gun crime videos? King tweeted.

"Incredible. Unbelievable. Unacceptable. The arrogance."

Fire and Rescue NSW is also down on Facebook.

Union Aid Abroad has also been blocked and described the debacle as "shameful".

Satire news sites The Chaser and the Betoota Advocate have also been banned on Facebook, prompting The Chaser to change their profile photo and name on Twitter to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and demand the issue to be rectified.

"Hey guys, it's your boss here. Please unban the Chaser's facebook page and also give them a million dollars. Thanks!" The Chaser tweeted.

Facebook has also banned itself on Facebook.

List of non-news Facebook pages which are impacted:

  • Queensland Health

  • Fire and Rescue NSW

  • SA Health

  • South Australia Government

  • Bureau of Meteorology

  • Western Sydney Health

  • Sydney Local Health District

  • The Australian Council of Trade Unions

  • 1800 Respect

  • Women's Legal Service Tasmania

  • Kirby Institute

  • Mission Australia

  • Facebook

  • ACT Government

  • WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services

  • The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

  • Union Aid Abroad - APHEDA

  • Tasmanian Government

  • Media Diversity AU

  • The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute

  • Garvan Institute of Medical Research

  • Women's Rugby League

  • WWF Australia

  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy

  • Sacred Heart Mission

  • Council to Homeless Persons

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