Bendigo marriage equality opponents locked out of Facebook page after failing to comply with authorisation rules

A Bendigo-based campaign against marriage equality has been temporarily banned from Facebook after failing to comply with new laws designed to ward off hate speech.

The Australian Electoral Commission referred Vote No Australia - Marriage Plebiscite to Facebook after receiving several complaints about its lack of authorisation.

Safeguards legislation passed in federal parliament last month required some advertisements, printed material, and "material intended to affect whether a person provides a response to the survey or the content of the response" bear the name and address of the person responsible. 

A Facebook Australia spokesman said Vote No Australia administrators were contacted on several occasions to amend their page before the restriction was put in place.

Almost 20,000 Facebook users followed the page when its Australian audience was locked out.

Until the ban was lifted on Monday afternoon, users were met with an error message explaining the page could not be viewed because it violated local laws. 

The page remained visible to Facebook users overseas. 

Page manager Lewis Freeman-Harrison, from Bendigo, said he complied with Facebook's request to authorise its material, and did not understand why Australian users were declined access.   

The shutdown was a "breech of freedom of speech", he said. 

“I think it's really important that every person has freedom of speech and, sadly, we were taken down.” 

The Facebook spokesman said the social network sought to reflect the diversity of views held by its two billion users. But local laws, as well as user safety, meant content could be blocked. 

“When a regulator notifies Facebook that some content may be illegal in their country we look at each request to ensure that it is valid and enforceable before taking any action,” the spokesman said.

A government order, as well as complaints from individuals and non-government bodies, could result in access to its content being restricted, the Facebook website explained.   

AEC confirmed yesterday is sought assistance from Facebook to make aware Vote No organisers of their responsibilities. 

“It was then a matter for Facebook, whether they could contact the page owner or block the page,” an AEC spokesman said. 

When the page was made visible again to Australians on Monday, a picture authorised by Aaron Haywood, from Tasmania, could be seen.   

Speaking while the Vote No Australia was inaccessible, marriage equality campaigner Tash Joyce – who authorises the Bendigo Says Yes page – said authorisation was a simple but crucial part of campaigning.  

“It's about transparency and we have always been transparent about who we are and what we stand for," Ms Joyce said. 

But responsibility for the page’s contents did not stop there, she said; strict moderation took place throughout the campaign to protect Facebook users. 

”It takes time and effort to manage, but it is possible to ensure that page content remains respectful and does not cause harm or distress to others,” she said.

“I can’t imagine there would be any material published on the page for anyone to have made a complaint about.”

Mr Freeman-Harrison is not the only Bendigo connection to the Vote No effort. Church leader Samuel Tshisekedi is also among the page’s administrators, soliciting for donations in messages to Vote No followers. 

He is also one of a group of people responsible for driving a billboard in support of traditional marriage across Victoria and NSW.