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Facebook to revive health, emergency pages

Man Holding Binoculars with Facebook Logo
Photo: Facebook to revive health, emergency pages
Facebook will restore pages of some state and territory health authorities, emergency services and the Bureau of Meteorology after they were caught up in the platform's Australian news ban. 
Queensland, SA and ACT Health and the WA Fire and Emergency Services were among the pages blocked as the tech giant followed through on its threat to restrict news sharing in response to a proposed media bargaining code.
The pages, which provide crucial health, emergency and weather information and alerts, were blocked on Thursday morning.


The Tasmanian and ACT government pages were also down, along with the web-based national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service 1800 Respect, and the page of WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup less than a month out from the state election.
Facebook says it didn't intend its ban on sharing news content to impact government pages and it will restore them.
"The actions we are taking are focused on restricting Australian publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content," it said in a statement.

"As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted. However, we will reverse any pages that are inadvertently impacted."
 Queensland Health and SA Health have asked the company to restore their pages, while state politicians have urged the federal government to fix the problem.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it was particularly concerning the health and BOM pages were blocked.
"The ball is firmly in the federal government's court here," she told reporters.


"This is a federal issue and it needs to be sorted out, and I hope that the prime minister will see sense and sort this issue out quickly."
Australian Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow suggested the blockages were tantamount to denying people the right of freedom of expression.
"Freedom of expression includes the right to speak and to receive information," he tweeted.


"Facebook's decision deprives its Australian users of vital public information - including on emergencies, public health, fire & rescue."
The Victorian Council of Social Services said frontline service providers, like dozens of non-news organisations across the country, had been caught in the crossfire of the stoush between Facebook and the federal government.


The group said it was "beyond outrageous" that critical information was being denied to vulnerable communities during a pandemic.
"Facebook has a right to play hardball. But it's reprehensible to put the lives of innocent people at risk in the process," VCSS said in a statement.
 WA Opposition Leader Zak Kirkup's page is blocked but not Premier Mark McGowan's, with the election set for March 13.
Mr Kirkup accepted Facebook had made a mistake, but said the situation reinforced the need for the federal media code to be passed.
"While I accept that my page was taken down because of a poorly written algorithm, it speaks volumes how influential these social media giants have become in determining the course of our democracy," he said.
"This only reinforces why @ScottMorrisonMP was right to intro this mandatory code."


More than 600,000 people follow the Queensland Health page and more than 307,000 follow the SA Health page.
Almost 52,000 people follow the ACT Health Facebook page while the WA Fire and Emergency Services page is followed by more than 301,000 people.
The Bureau of Meteorology page provides weather updates and severe weather and flood alerts to more than 909,000 users.
 The forecaster urged people to check its website, app and Twitter accounts while its Facebook page is down.

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