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Australia won't advertise COVID-19 vaccine on Facebook but vows publicity

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Byron Kaye
·2 min read
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By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Australia's government pledged apublicity campaign for its rollout of COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday- but not in Facebook advertisements, as a feud continues overthe social media giant blocking news content from its platformin the country.

Facebook Inc's abrupt decision on Thursday to stopAustralians from sharing news on its platform and strip thepages of domestic and foreign media outlets also blacked outseveral state government and emergency department accounts,drawing furious responses from lawmakers around the world.

Hours before Australia began inoculations with thePfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Health Minister Greg Hunt said thegovernment would embark on a wide-ranging communicationcampaign, including online, to ensure vulnerable people turnedup for a shot.

But a ban on health department spending to advertise onFacebook would remain in place until the dispute between the BigTech company and Australia - over a new law to make Facebook payfor news content - was resolved.

"On my watch, until this issue is resolved, there will notbe Facebook advertising," Hunt told the Australian BroadcastingCorp. "There has been none commissioned or instituted since thisdispute arose. Basically you have corporate titans acting assovereign bullies and they won't get away with it."

Since the news blackout, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has saidhe would talk with Facebook about its move over the weekend. OnSaturday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Facebook had"tentatively friended us again" without giving further details.

Morrison got an injection on Sunday to publicise theprogramme, saying the country would use "all the communicationmechanisms available to us to reach people" without commentingspecifically about Facebook advertising.

Hunt said the authorities would use every channel toencourage Australians to get vaccinated, including messages onforeign language broadcaster SBS, but "there is the capacity todo paid advertising (on Facebook) and that element is not on thecards ... for now".

Frydenberg's office did not immediately respond to Reutersrequests for comment on Sunday.

A Facebook representative said in an email that the companywas "engaging with the Australian Government to outline ourongoing concerns with the proposed law (and would) continue towork with the government on amendments to the law, with the aimof achieving a stable, fair path for both Facebook andpublishers".

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by William Mallard)