Facebook deliberately blocked access to Australian government websites during the country’s COVID vaccination drive — an underhanded move to punish authorities over a proposed law that required the social network to pay news organizations for online content, according to a report.
“We landed exactly where we wanted to,” Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of partnerships, wrote to the Australian team in February 2021, according to the Journal.
Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg, also congratulated their Aussie unit, the Journal reported.
Sandberg hailed the team’s “thoughtfulness of the strategy” and “precision of execution.”
Facebook’s strategy to target a broad range of sites that were classified as “news” was adopted in order to avoid breaking Australian law, which bans platforms from allowing links to some publishers while not to others, according to the Journal.
The company also acted preemptively to remove sites because it feared that publishers would go to court in an effort to block it from doing so once the law went into effect, the Journal reported.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told the Journal that there was nothing nefarious about what the company did.
“The documents in question clearly show that we intended to exempt Australian government pages from restrictions in an effort to minimize the impact of this misguided and harmful legislation,” said Stone.
“When we were unable to do so as intended due to a technical error, we apologized and worked to correct it. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically and obviously false.”
Other Western countries like Canada and the United States are considering similar laws that would require companies like Facebook and Google to pay publishers for content.