Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg likened to North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by WA Premier Mark McGowan

Peter Law & Josh ZimmermanThe West Australian
VideoFacebook will block news content from being read and shared in its news feed in Australia, drawing a line in the sand against a proposed Australian law that would require it and Google to pay the country’s news publishers for content. Gavino Gar...

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is behaving like North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un by blocking news in Australia, Mark McGowan has said, as he called on the United States to intervene.

The WA Premier said it was “highly inappropriate and dangerous” for the social media giant to ban bushfire emergency alerts in the middle of summer and health advice during the pandemic.

While Government agencies including the Department of Fire and Emergency Services have since had their Facebook pages restored, WA Liberal leader Zak Kirkup’s remains blocked.

With early voting in the State election starting on Monday, Mr McGowan described the move as “anti-democratic” and urged Facebook to immediately restore his opponent’s page.

“They should reinstate the Opposition leader and indeed every political candidate’s website,” he said.

“It's totally wrong what they're doing. They've obviously spat the dummy.

“They're behaving more like North Korea than an American company. I would urge the American Government to assist us here in resolving this matter.”

The Premier said Facebook was acting like a bully and should instead be working with the Federal Government on the media bargaining code in an “amicable way”.

“What they’re doing is anti-democratic and that’s why the United States Government should assist us here. They shouldn’t condone a company behaving like a North Korean dictator,’ he added.

“It’s outside the spirit of the relationship between Australia and the United States.”

The code, which could be law within days, will require social media companies to pay media outlets for using their content.

Google has already struck a landmark agreement with Seven West Media, publisher of The West Australian and PerthNow.

“These social media giants, as Google did the other day, should actually pay for content,” Mr McGowan said.

“If they take content from Australian journalism organisations or Australian journalists, they should pay for it, otherwise they're going to destroy their host.

“If all they do is take things for free and post them, they're just going to destroy journalism in Australia — and that’s wrong.”

Nationals party reconsidering using Facebook

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said her party was now considering its position regarding future use of Facebook-owned platforms and advertising revenue.

“The censorship of our valuable regional news media organisations is an affront to our democratic process, particularly during an election period and is an insult to our hard working local journalists,” she said.

“We urge the Federal Government and Facebook to resolve this matter urgently.”

Mr McGowan, who has a huge following on Facebook compared to his political rivals, said Labor’s future use of the platform was a matter for the party.

The West Australian earlier this week revealed Labor and the Liberals had spent a combined $170,000 on advertising on Facebook in the lead-up to the March 13 election.

Mr Kirkup, who has 4334 followers on Facebook compared to Mr McGowan’s 359,146, added: “It is very disappointing that weeks from an election Facebook removed our page. We are working with the company to have this error fixed as quickly as possible.

“In this day and age, more and more people are reliant on social media platforms for their news and information about current affairs.”

In a statement, Facebook said government pages should not have been blocked from the platform.

“The actions we're taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a spokesman said.

“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.”

Peak science bodies condemn Facebook’s move

Australian Academy of Science Chief Executive Officer Anna-Maria Arabia said Facebook cannot reduce misinformation while blocking sources of trustworthy scientific information.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the move to block content from science organisations risked denying the public access to important scientific and health information.

“For Facebook to block access to the feeds of trusted science and health organisations in Australia during a pandemic and bushfire season is irresponsible and dangerous.”

“At a time when the company is taking steps to tackle misinformation on its platform, it’s concerning it has chosen to silence some of this nation’s leading scientific voices.”

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