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Facebook’s Australia news blackout cuts off government agencies, charities

Facebook’s news blackout in Australia has raised fears misinformation could come to dominate the platform in the country, with fake news and conspiracy theories left untouched while credible sources have been cut off.

From Thursday Australians were unable to post links to news articles or view the Facebook pages of local and international news outlets, while Aussie news sources disappeared from the site worldwide.

The social media giant was acting in response to tough new regulations that will force it and Google to pay for the news stories shown on their platforms.

But several critical government agencies — tasked with issuing emergency Covid-19, bushfire, flood and cyclone advice — were initially caught up in the news ban before Facebook began restoring them.

The thumbs-up ‘Like’ logo is shown on a sign at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, April 14, 2020. (AP/Jeff Chiu, File)

An assortment of other Australian pages were also rendered blank, including cancer and homelessness charities, major businesses and even popular satire accounts.

But unaffected by the blackout were a series of pages owned by purveyors of fake news and conspiracy theories — despite their frequently posting about current events.

Among them were several pages identified by AFP’s fact-checking team as sharing false claims that circulate to tens of thousands of users.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance said the professional journalists it represents acted as a check on the spread of misinformation before their work was barred from Facebook feeds.

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