By Swati Pandey and Kirsty Needham
SYDNEY, Feb 18 (Reuters) – Dozens of Australian companies,charities and information providers reacted with anger onThursday after being shut down by Facebook, imploring the socialmedia giant to restore their pages as calls for users to deletethe platform grew.
Australians were blocked from accessing news in theirFacebook feeds after an escalation of the proposed mediabargaining code which would require the company and Googleto reach commercial deals with news outlets whoselinks drive traffic to their platforms.
But several charities and pages of official health,meteorology and emergency services were also blocked, along withsmaller, niche content providers.
Foodbank Australia, one of the many charities caught in thecrossfire, said Facebook’s response was “unacceptable”.
“Hours matter when you have nothing to eat. SORT THIS OUT!”CEO Brianna Casey tweeted.
Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds said the charity had cometo rely on the platform to communicate with supporters andmembers.
“We also use Facebook as an important fundraising tool toreach generous supporters who want to support the world’s mostvulnerable children,” he said. “Every minute that our page isdown is another minute our message isn’t getting out about theneeds of children.”
Facebook had restored the government services pages byafternoon, but there were still small businesses and communitygroups who were left venting, with #facebooknewsban and#DeleteFacebook trending on microblogging site Twitter.
Rachel Chappell who founded a Sydney-based community group’North Shore Mums’ nine years ago woke up to see her Facebookpage with its 35,000 followers disappear.
“We’re a mum’s website. We are small and niche. This is notfair,” said Chappell, who built up a small business for mothers,writing about family-friendly cafes and pets for the localcommunity, and attracting advertising.
“I think they are just bullies. They are shooting themselvesin the foot. I spend my A$20,000 marketing budget to promote ourcontent with Facebook,” said Chappell, adding the move had“completely shaken” her.
Facebook’s reach in Australia is powerful. It has more than11 million users in a population of 25 million and takes inabout 24% of the country’s advertising spend, according to thecompetition regulator.
A Facebook representative in Australia did not reply to arequest for comment. A later Facebook statement said the banshould not affect government pages but “as the law does notprovide clear guidance on the definition of news content, wehave taken a broad definition”.
“CUTE CATS AND CONSPIRACIES”
Several organisations posted social media messages directingfollowers to their websites or other platforms including Twitterand Facebook-owned Instagram.
Journalist Jelisa Apps said many rural areas and countrytowns relied on their local paper’s Facebook pages as physicalcopies were stripped back over the years. Other social mediaplatforms were not as widely used, she said.
“I’ve just checked my hometown’s newspaper page. It’s gone.This is a real shame. An undervalued audience having their newsfurther limited,” Apps said on Twitter.
Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Centrefor Responsible Technology said Facebook’s decision would makeit a weaker social network.
Facebook “is destroying its social licence to operate,”Lewis said.
“Without fact-based news to anchor it, Facebook will becomelittle more than a cute cats and conspiracy theories (page),” headded.
“If Facebook determines to treat Australians with suchcontempt, Australians should respond by ending its use ofFacebook and using alternate ways to connect online.”(Reporting by Swati Pandey and Kirsty Needham; Editing byLincoln Feast.)