Facebook bans Government information source pages like Department of Fire and Emergency Services

Lanai Scarr and Sarah IsonThe West Australian
Facebook has banned the Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA page.
Camera IconFacebook has banned the Department of Fire and Emergency Services WA page. Credit: Ben Anderson

UPDATE: Social media giant Facebook temporarily blocked a number of vital WA emergency and public service pages this morning as part of its ban on Australian news.

Both the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and the Bureau of Meteorology had their pages blocked for most of the morning.

The pages, which provide Australians with important information during life threatening emergencies, have hundreds of thousands of followers.

Access to the pages was restored just before 10am.

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A DFES spokesperson said West Australians should rely on the Emergency WA website rather than Facebook during an emergency.

“After working with the team at Facebook, DFES’ page is now visible to the public again and we are able to continue providing the WA community with emergency information via the platform,” the spokesperson said,

“While Facebook is a valuable tool for DFES to communicate with the public during an emergency, the best source for emergency information is Emergency WA.”

A BOM spokesperson also encouraged West Australians to go to its website.

“We encourage all Australians to go directly to www.bom.gov.au and on the BOM Weather app.“ the spokesperson said.

“While social media is one way the bureau engages with the community, it's important to get the latest weather and warnings information directly from the b ureau's website or app, particularly during severe weather.”

Over east, Queensland Health, the SA Health pages and the Bureau of Meteorology pages were also been blocked.

A Queensland government spokesman told AAP the matter will be investigated and Facebook will be contacted.

More than 600,000 people follow the Queensland Health page and more than 307,000 follow the SA Health page.

In a statement Facebook said Government pages should not have been blocked from the platform.

“Government Pages should not be impacted by today's announcement,” a 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,” they said.

“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."

It comes as Facebook followed through on its threat to ban Australians sharing news on its platform in response to a proposed media bargaining code.

Australian users and publishers will be restricted from sharing or viewing domestic and international news.

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese said Facebook’s behaviour was ‘reprehensible’.
Camera IconLeader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese said Facebook’s behaviour was ‘reprehensible’. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Facebook’s behaviour was “reprehensible” and urged he Government to “outline its strategy of dealing with this”.

“I think Facebook's behaviour is reprehensible. Reprehensible. And I say that unequivocally,” he said.

He raised major concern with the blocking of emergency services alerts on the website.

“What it (the Government) is now confronted with... is the blocking of emergency services, for example, that people rely upon,” he said.

“We need to make sure that measures are put in place that protect people's health, to ensure people can get access to the information that they need when they need it.

“Perhaps part of what we need to do to respond to this is getting that information out to people directly about how they can access information.”

Mr Albanese would not say whether Labor would vote in favour or against the legislation in the Senate.

“It's a bit hard to hypothetically say because we don't know what amendments will be moved in the Senate,” he said.

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said ‘this is a mess of the Government’s making’.
Camera IconShadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said ‘this is a mess of the Government’s making’. Credit: MICK TSIKAS/AAPIMAGE

Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said “this is a mess of the Government’s making”.

“It is up to the Government to tell us what has gone on here and what they are doing to fix it and what it means for real people trying to access news,” he said.

“This will have consequences for people who are trying to access health news during a pandemic.”

Despite Facebook’s ban, news services were this morning still posting on their pages which were able to be seen by some users, including The West Australian’s. However, international users have now been blocked from seeing the content.

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