Facebook set out to cause mayhem in Australia last year by including pages for health and fire services, charities and suicide hotlines in the shutdown of news pages on the platform to bully the Australian government for a favourable outcome in the media bargaining code, a whistleblower has revealed.
As reported in the Wall Street Journal, leaked documents indicate the social media giant set out to include many community pages along with news sites on the platform as an aggressive tactic in their negotiations with the Morrison government.
In February 2021 when this was occurring, Australia was in the grip of deadly bushfires and about to launch plans for COVID vaccinations.
At the time, Facebook said the closures of these community pages were not deliberate.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, the leaked documents said Facebook had deployed an algorithm which would decide which pages would be shut down on its platform which indicates it knew the move would affect more than just news outlets.
The end game for Facebook was to gain the upper hand while in talks with the Australian Government which was creating a law, the first of its kind in the world, that would see tech giants Google and Facebook pay news outlets for using their content.
The Wall Street Journal report says multiple Facebook employees tried to warn the company about the impact of this move but didn’t receive an adequate response from the team in charge of the project.
The documents also show Senior Facebook executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg congratulating their staff for their “thoughtfulness of the strategy” and “precision of execution”.
emails from Facebook’s head of partnerships Campbell brown said: “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”.
But at the end of the day, the tactic didn’t weaken Australia’s position and Facebook and Google have gone on to create private content deals with publishers in Australia since the legislation was passed.
In fact, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission head at the time, Rod Sim, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying the Australian Government got what it wanted.