Facebook documents and testimony filed to U.S. and Australian authorities by whistleblowers allege that the social-media giant deliberately created an overly broad and sloppy process to take down pages — allowing swaths of the Australian government and health services to be caught in its web just as the country was launching Covid vaccinations. The goal, according to the whistleblowers and documents, was to exert maximum negotiating leverage over the Australian Parliament, which was voting on the first law in the world that would require platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for content.
Despite saying it was targeting only news outlets, the company deployed an algorithm for deciding what pages to take down that it knew was certain to affect more than publishers, according to the documents and people familiar with the matter. It didn’t notify affected pages in advance they would be blocked or provide a system for them to appeal once they were. The documents also show multiple Facebook employees tried to raise alarms about the impact and offer possible solutions, only to receive a minimal or delayed response from the leaders of the team in charge. After five days that caused disorder throughout the country, Australia’s Parliament amended the proposed law to the degree that, a year after its passage, its most onerous provisions haven’t been applied to Facebook or its parent company, Meta Platforms. “We landed exactly where we wanted to,” wrote Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of partnerships, who pressed for the company’s aggressive stance, in a congratulatory email to her team minutes after the Australian Senate voted to approve the watered-down bill at the end of February 2021. »