Friday, February 19, 2021

Facebook’s news ban goes viral

Facebook is scrambling to restore government, essential services and charity pages caught up in its unprecedented attempt to ban the sharing of news on the platform. The sweeping ban took out the pages for the Bureau of Meteorology, fire and rescue services during bushfire season, domestic violence shelters, suicide prevention organisations, and even Facebook’s own business page. Facebook’s Asia-Pacific policy head said the company is restoring pages wrongly blocked “that have been notified to us” and blamed a broad definition of “news” in legislation forcing it to pay media companies for linking to content. In his own Facebook post, Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged that the company’s “arrogant” actions to cut off essential information services would not stop the enactment of the media bargaining code. Senior ministers, however, are consulting with Facebook about potential changes to the legislation. With nearly 40 per cent of Australians using Facebook for news, the move has also provoked concerns about how a news-free platform could foment misinformation.

The Northern Territory’s overcrowded jails are at a “critical tipping point” according to a review tabled in the NT parliament on Thursday. The review found there were more than 1800 prisoners in the NT's two major correctional facilities and work camps in 2019, which is about seven per cent above capacity. It noted widespread drug use, failing rehabilitation programs, and that the number of hours prisoners spent in their cells had significantly increased. Funding for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency parole support has also ended and some residential community rehabilitation centres could also lose their funding.

The ­federal cabinet’s budget committee is expected to sign off on a permanent increase to JobSeeker on Friday. The move means the Morrison government is poised to legislate a permanent increase to fortnightly dole ­payments as early as next week, reports The Australian.  A favoured option would merge various subsidies into a single ­increased payment for unemployed Australians, abolishing up to a dozen other supplements. A temporary boost to JobSeeker is scheduled to end at the end of March.

Legal experts and politicians have condemned the passage of laws to merge the Family Court into the Federal Circuit Court, warning of the impacts on women and children. A bill combining the two courts received federal parliament’s final approval on Thursday after passing the Senate overnight. Women's Legal Services chief executive Angela Lynch criticised the decision to move from a specialist court to a generalised model. “This is a devastating outcome for families in Australia, for vulnerable children, and vulnerable women who are affected by domestic violence,” she said. 

Episode 400: Sitting week
The Brittany Higgins case has dominated the week in Canberra. This is the story of how the Prime Minister has responded to her alleged assault, and how he has tried to manage the coverage that followed.

“When Tanya Plibersek took on Craig Kelly in the press gallery corridor at Parliament House recently, it illustrated a shift in the politics of Covid-19. ‘My mum lives in your electorate,’ Plibersek told the rebel Liberal backbencher, ‘and I don’t want her exposed to people who are not going to be vaccinated.’ The on-camera confrontation ... prompted Scott Morrison to discipline his MP. But the incident may also serve as a marker for the point at which Australia’s pandemic politics changed from compliance to combat.”


“Glass is magical. As resident judge Katherine Gray suggests, its manifestations are limitless. At times, it is as freefalling as honey from a dipper or as stretchy as hand-pulling ropes of taffy. As it cools, it is as fragile as the temper of a toddler. ‘Glass will smash, and so will your dreams,’ says Gray, as she introduces 10 artists to the competition. The smashes make me flinch in my armchair.”

“When he made his first billion, Samir bought the top half of the mountain. Once his grandparents had lived at its foot but now he had a view to the sea and the mountains beyond. His first point of business was the road. Bulldozers, excavators, trucks and workers battled a road to the top. He liked the appearance of dust but not how it clung to his clothes. They layered the gravel and then sprayed the asphalt. He thought, Now I can build my house.”

“A small army of specialised nurses will travel to 190 towns around the country to deliver the first Pfizer vaccines to residents in aged and disability care from Monday, as 16 state-run hospital hubs prepare to inoculate frontline workers. Woy Woy in NSW, Bendigo in Victoria, Bundaberg in Queensland, Rockingham in Western Australia, Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and Burnie in Tasmania are among the first towns that will receive the vaccine under the federal government’s phase 1a plan outlined on Thursday.”

“In the midst of an ‘information vacuum’ caused by Facebook's news ban in Australia, fringe self-described news websites ... are freely posting vaccine scare stories ... a post celebrates that the government ‘won't be able to distribute their COVID-19 fear-mongering and propaganda to the Australian public.’ A Queensland University of Technology (QUT) analysis has found ‘publishers of low or dubious credibility have remained unaffected by the ban.’ Meanwhile, the number of posts sharing links to major Australian news sites on Australia-based Facebook pages has fallen by half since yesterday, the analysis found.”

“On 2 August, the Courier-Mail put in an early bid: ‘KEV’S $733m BANK HEIST’. The reference was to new taxes on beer, cigarettes and ‘your savings’, with Rudd pictured in a beanie and a mask grasping a sack of money. The next day the Herald Sun responded with ‘IT’S A RUDDY MESS’. As the paper explained, ‘Debt soars, unemployment to hit 11-year high, revenue crashes and boats bill blows out’. Two days later, when the election was announced, the Daily Telegraph upped the ante with its instantly notorious ‘Finally, you now have the chance to … KICK THIS MOB OUT’.”

“I rang my GP to ask if there had been a mistake and was told that I had been placed into Group 6 of the priority list because of my weight ... the man from the surgery took a sharp intake of breath and tried to remain composed as he informed me that rather than having my height registered as six foot two, it had been put into the system as 6.2 centimetres. I'm not sure how he kept it together when he told me that this, combined with my weight, had given me a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28,000.”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.