Facebook’s attempt to strong-arm local publishers and pressure the government on its media content regulation has backfired badly.

That is because it has taken a sledgehammer to the problem when a scalpel was required. It quickly became apparent that the ban was hitting home far beyond media sites. Initially, government departments including health and bushfire information sites were affected, as was the ACTU.

So poorly was the ban targeted that Facebook’s own site was caught up in the imbroglio.

On Twitter, the ABC’s Kevin Nguyen shared details of non-news sites that were affected including @1800RESPECT (an organisation for victims of domestic violence), the ACTU, Women’s Legal Services in Tasmania, Queensland Health, and WA’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services. The list continues to grow, to include state governments, community services groups, not for profits, and sporting associations.

And now its advertisers are also getting skewered.

Booktopia CMO Steffen Daleng posted on Linkedin this afternoon that his company’s site had been stripped of its content “out of nowhere”.

Steffen Daleng, CMO Booktopia

“Are we a collateral victim of Facebook’s News ban?” he asked.

It would seem so.

Daleng told Which-50, “We did author interviews here last night at 8pm. And that was one of the last engagements that my team had with the platform. Then this morning we just experienced our cover photo was disappearing. And then all the posts were gone.”

Booktopia had almost 131,000 fans on Facebook between 19 January and 17 February and generated 2.9 million impressions. It hosts author interviews on the site to support local writers — and of course it also uses Facebook as an advertising channel.

He said there had been no outreach or help from the platform. “We have heard nothing.  We received no emails, no notifications. It was pure serendipity we even realised there was a problem.”

Others commenting in the thread noted the arbitrary nature of the bans. Rob Kaldor from eTales Consulting noted that sites like Dymocks and other bookstores were unaffected.

Steve Kratic, the Marketing Manager, Jewellery at Pallian, said his company’s ABC Bullion page was affected.

Facebook’s accounts managers are scrambling. Kim Williams, the Head of Marketing at Beginning Boutique, wrote on Linkedin, “Just received an update from our FB account manager with this line ‘To comply with the new law, we are using a combination of technology to restrict news content and we will work to restore any non-news content that was inadvertently restricted.’”

In fact, it looks like Facebook’s salespeople are simply sharing information from the blog post this morning.

Competitors pounce

Rivals have been quick to spot an opportunity.

According to Simon Wheeler, Director of Content, Verizon Media ANZ, “We’re disappointed Facebook has felt the need to take this drastic action, which is going to have a tangible effect on Australian publishers and will adversely impact the large number of Australians who use their news feed to discover news stories.”

He said removing premium and trusted content poses further challenges for Facebook in providing a brand-safe and premium environment.

“In Australia, we have been preparing for this eventuality and working hard to diversify our sources of the audience, including the use of our Verizon Media proprietary native solution. This approach has resulted in double-digit audience growth for our brands — Yahoo News, Yahoo Sport, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Lifestyle. These solutions are available to all publishers for use.”

Facebook is maintaining that it’s all part of the masterplan, rather than a stuffup.

However, in a statement to media sites this afternoon it acknowledged that government pages should not have been impacted by today’s announcement.

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

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