Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has banned the Health Department from advertising on Facebook after the social media giant blocked coronavirus updates.
Minister Hunt said he banned the advertising spend on Thursday after Facebook blocked Australian users from sharing news stories on the eve of Australia’s crucial covid vaccine rollout.
When asked by journalist David Speers on ABC Insiders if the Health Department would still advertise the vaccine on Facebook, Mr Hunt said no.
‘I spoke to my office to make sure on Thursday that we were not doing that,’ he said on Sunday.
Australian Border Force worker Alysha Eyre getting a covid jab at Castle Hill Medical Centre, Sydney, Sunday. Vaccine information was blocked by Facebook on Thursday along with news
‘I will check that my department is not, but on my watch, until this issue is resolved, there will not be Facebook advertising.’
Mr Hunt said his office had already halted all advertising spend with Facebook, and that no ads had been commissioned or instituted since the government’s dispute with the social media giant arose.
‘I’ve got to say, basically you have corporate titans acting as sovereign bullies and they won’t get away with it. We will stand up as a country, but other countries will.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt pictured on Sunday at the Castle Hill Medical Centre, Sydney for the rollout of the covid vaccination program
Facebook’s news sharing block on Thursday morning also stopped state health department pages from posting including SA Health and Queensland Health.
St Vincent’s Health in Melbourne said they were extremely concerned that their Facebook page had been blocked during a pandemic and on the eve of crucial Covid vaccine distribution.
Public Interest Journalism chairman Allan Fels, also the former chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said it was unconscionable for Facebook to limit access to Australian government information: ‘be it weather, health or bushfire information’.
‘This is not ‘news’, nor content envisaged under the Mandatory News Bargaining Code … (which) seeks to address a significant market power imbalance,’ he told the Daily Telegraph.
The social media juggernaut has left itself open to potential class action lawsuits after hundreds of charities, businesses and government agencies were caught up in the retaliatory page wipe, Mr Fels said.
‘Facebook could be liable for breach of unconscionable conduct laws due to the overnight cessation of services to businesses, especially small businesses that largely require Facebook to disseminate their product,’ he said.
Facebook has gone to war with Australia over sharing revenue with the media companies whose hard work Facebook exploits. Pictured: Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg in 2019
Investment fund Munro Partners, which has $3.7 billion in funds under management, has dumped its longstanding holding in Facebook on fears the dispute over news content may be just the opening salvo in a long war.
Munro Partners chief investment officer Nick Griffin bought Facebook shares in 2012 when it first listed on the Nasdaq but last month sold $130 million of stock, reducing its exposure.
Mr Griffin told the Sydney Morning Herald that Facebook’s news payment battle was just one of thousands the company faces around the world.
‘Most media in the world is liable to what’s on their platform and Facebook is not,’ he said.
‘It’s that issue around hate speech, extreme content, fake news that’s making Facebook public enemy number one for every single government on the planet right now.
Facebook banned Australians from sharing news on Thursday morning in response to the proposed Mandatory News Media Bargaining Code, which would see the company forced to share revenue with the media companies whose hard work Facebook profits from.
Facebook had a market capitalisation of $744.8 billion as of February 19, according to research site macrotrends.net.
Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news posts on Thursday morning – but also stopped crucial government health and weather information from being shared (stock image)
Mr Griffin said Facebook was making nearly $100 billion in revenue but that Google settled its similar dispute for $30 million per publisher, a small figure by comparison even if other countries around the world made similar demands.
‘In the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it’s going to cost Facebook that much money.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he expects support from other nations following Facebook’s controversial ban.
Mr Morrison said he spoke to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday about the issue, among other world leaders including Canadian leader Justin Trudeau.
He said the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron were also monitoring the issue closely.
On Sunday, Mr Morrison said the government would use every communication mechanism including Facebook during Australia’s vaccine rollout but later clarified that only meant unpaid information on the social media giant – no additional paid advertising.