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"Fb was unsuitable": Australian treasurer criticizes social media big's transfer to dam messages

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Various news pages on Facebook on February 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia.

Robert Cianflone ​​| Getty Images News | Getty Images

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it was "wrong" and "unnecessary" for Facebook to block Australian users from all news content – including that from the government – on its platform.

"Facebook was wrong. Facebook's actions were unnecessary. They were persistent and will damage its reputation here in Australia," said Frydenberg on Thursday.

"Your decision to block Australians' access to government pages – be it for pandemic support, mental health, emergency services or the Bureau of Meteorology – had nothing to do with the media code that has not yet been passed by the Senate" he said said.

The Australian Parliament is expected to pass a new media law that will require online platforms like Google and Facebook to pay news outlets to display and link their content.

Facebook's decision was contrary to Google's. The latter said on Wednesday that it had reached a revenue-sharing agreement with Australian media conglomerate News Corp, which owns media such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.

In addition to the pages run by news outlets, several government-backed Australian accounts were deleted from Facebook Thursday morning, Reuters reported. Government pages affected include those who offer advice on the threats posed by the Covid pandemic and bushfire, the news agency said.

Human rights activists also criticized Facebook's move. Elaine Pearson, Australian director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement posted on Twitter that the social media giant is restricting vital information such as Covid-19 updates.

"Facebook severely restricts the flow of information to Australians," she said.

"This is an alarming and dangerous turn. It is incomprehensible to block access to vital information for an entire country in the middle of the night," she added.

Facebook responded to CNBC's request for comment that government sites should not be affected by its latest move in Australia.

"The measures we are taking are aimed at preventing publishers and people in Australia from sharing or displaying Australian and international news content," a spokesman said in a statement sent via email.

"Since the law does not provide clear guidelines for defining news content, we have made a comprehensive definition to respect the law as it stands. However, we will cancel any pages that are accidentally affected," the statement said.

According to Reuters, many of these pages were restored by the afternoon.

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Katherine Clark