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Zucked in

Written By: - Date published: 7:38 am, February 19th, 2021 - 19 comments
Categories: australian politics, Deep stuff, facebook, International, journalism, Media - Tags:

So we have just witnessed round one of Facebook v Australia.

It is not that often that I agree, or at least don’t violent disagree, with the actions of the Scomo led Australian Government.  But on this particular issue they are right, Facebook is getting a free ride using media postings to profit and the media is suffering because of this.  I suspect that the Murdoch Press may be in the Government’s ear and the protection of Murdoch’s bottom line may be a consideration.

For a while the Australian Federal Government has been proposing legislation requiring Facebook and Google to compensate Australian media interests for posting links to local media stories.  Users posting media links is a lucrative part of the Facebook business model.  Facebook profits, the media entity does not unless users click through.

Facebook has replied by giving the Australian Government the middle finger.

The stoush has been brewing for a while.  Just under a month ago the Guardian reported the Australian Government position in this way:

[Federal Treasurer] Josh Frydenberg has warned the internet giants it is “inevitable” they will pay for news content and their threats to shut down core functions in Australia do them a “big disservice”.

At a doorstop on Sunday, the treasurer said the Morrison’s government intended to become a “world leader” in regulating social media and search companies, who he accused of shifting the goalposts in their opposition to the proposed bargaining code of conduct.

Google and Facebook are both fighting against legislation currently before the parliament that would force them to enter into negotiations with news media companies for payment for content, with an arbiter to ultimately decide the payment amount if no agreement can be reached.

On Friday, the pair escalated the dispute by threatening to remove the Google search engine from Australia and Facebook to remove news from the Facebook feeds of all Australian users.

Earlier Facebook had asked for more time so that it could negotiate with individual companies, also known as divide and rule.

Facebook has asked the Australian government to consider giving digital platforms a six-month grace period to make deals with news outlets to pay for content before hitting companies with the “big stick” of the news media bargaining code.

Ahead of Facebook’s appearance on Friday before a Senate committee examining the federal government’s news media and digital platforms mandatory bargaining code bill, the social media giant told the committee the code remained “complex, unpredictable and unworkable”.

Facebook argued instead, companies subject to the code which would require them to negotiate payments with news media companies for their content, should be given time to make deals separately before the code takes effect.

The company compared the proposed change with the federal government’s “big stick” energy provider legislation.

“Given our success in reaching commercial agreements in other jurisdictions without the threat of regulation, we are optimistic that Facebook could reach commercial deals with major Australian publishers,” Facebook said in its submission.

“One possible way to allow this to happen would be to institute a grace period where digital platforms are given assurances they will not be designated (or subject to the threat of penalties or damages) if they enter into satisfactory commercial agreements with major news organisations within a reasonable period of time (say, six months).

And unfortunately Facebook had some pretty highly principled support. from none other than the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee. Again from the Guardian:

The inventor of the world wide web says proposed Australian media laws requiring tech giants Google and Facebook to pay for displaying news content risks setting a precedent that “could make the web unworkable around the world”.

Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web in 1989, said the draft legislation “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online”.

In a submission to an Australian Senate inquiry on the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code bill, Berners-Lee said the ability of web users to link to other sites was “fundamental to the web”.

Requiring digital platforms to pay to host that link, a world-first provision of the proposed Australian laws, would “block an important aspect of the value of web content”, the computer scientist said.

Berners-Lee argued the proposal “would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to operate over the past three decades”.

“If this precedent were followed elsewhere it could make the web unworkable around the world,” he said. “I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code.”

Part (most) of me wants to say fcuk you to Facebook and you should pay up.  The local media infrastructure has suffered enough and there are far too many good journalists losing their living because there is not a sustainable business model for payment to them of a proper amount for their work.

But another part of me wonders if this will be a slippery slope.

What is best for the health of the web which is such a fundamental and essential part of our civilisation that we need to always nurture it and care for it?

19 comments on “Zucked in ”

  1. Enough is Enough 1

    You suspect that the Murdoch Press may be in the Government’s ear?

    This has dirty old Rupert written all over it. Murdoch v Zuckerberg. ghastly people

  2. Tricledrown 2

    Taxing Facebook will prove difficult

  3. Incognito 3

    Facebook is a Social Media parasite that is removing the oxygen from and sucking the life out of Mainstream Media. When MSM die, the parasite will die too. The only way to survive is symbiosis. I believe this was the case, more or less, and both SM and MSM were benefitting financially. However, MSM were not happy with their diminishing role of having to do all the donkey work for less and less gain so the host turned onto the parasite, killing them both?

    Stuff seems to be doing ok though after they turned off FB; it doesn’t have to be the end, but could be a new beginning. FB does not generate any quality content; they’re merely a platform, IMO. I do have a FB account but I rarely use it.

  4. RedLogix 4

    There was quite a good ABC Q&A on the topic last night. Overall I have very little time for FB – and struggle to give any fucks on Zuck at all – but it was an interesting exploration.

    One panelist made the excellent point is that in the contest between sovereign nations, and huge global corporates with incomes bigger than the GDP of many nations – there is a real absence of global policies and enforcement to deal with this relationship.

    • tc 4.1

      Something the big tech's have relied on for awhile now, they've got pinged in Europe now and again but they're bigger than anything ever now with the associated power.

      IMO they've shot themselves in the foot here so Wuperts liberal party are doing us all a favour in a way bringing out their true colours for those who may of not been paying attention.

  5. Ad 5

    I'm looking forward to seeing who Australia's larger friends really are, to help pull the teeth of this global vampire off their necks.

    Stand up EU, stand up Canada, stand up UK, stand up Japan.

    When 33% of your population use Facebook as their primary news source, and they turn off the flow, it's a proper measure of addiction for citizens and for the entire political economy.

    • Populuxe1 5.1

      Just conceivably if you are going to treat the free services of a gigantic, soulless, privately-owned multinational as essential coms infrastructure, without any sort of formal agreement other than the basic Ts&Cs, you shouldn't shirtfront them with absurd ultimatums. While Facebook is the devil, they are, in this case, well within their rights.

  6. alwyn 6

    You complain that "Facebook is getting a free ride using media postings to profit and the media is suffering because of this.".

    Facebook have clearly listened to your objection and are going to do what you want.. They are no longer going to "steal" the media postings. The media organisations should be happy about this and welcome Facebook stopping the practice of linking to news stories.

    The Australian Government should also welcome it.

    Do they? Of course not. The Prime Minister rushes into print complaining, not that Facebook are publishing links to news stories, but that they aren't doing so. They oughta do it seems to be his line. Well not "rushes into print of course". In a delicious irony he went onto Facebook itself to complain.

    I seem to remember something similar when Australia greatly increased the penalty rates for people working on Public Holidays. One of the justifications was that the staff members were being forced to work on those days when they would far rather be home with their families.

    Some restaurants decided that they couldn't operate profitably and chose not to open. Was there action welcomed? No, not always. Employees would rather have had the money. At least that is how I remember the situation. Perhaps it wasn't generally so but I am pretty sure that there were cases of this happening

  7. woodart 7

    murdoch will be using this as a test case. his rotten empire is directly threatened by a real world wide media setup, and he doesnt like taking his own mediciene. getting in morrisons ear and trying to take aussie down to a nth korea level of inter-connectedness is about murdochs level.

    • tc 7.1

      Not really, the model exists in europe as they've coughed up already over there. Wupert wants cross media ownership gone so he can swallow up more outlets and those pesky free news sources ABC/SBS neutered.

  8. RedBaronCV 8

    Don't feel bad about supporting ScMo – the rest of the Aussie parliament has managed to.

    Funny how Facebook ( using some sort of analysis- per the ABC link ) has managed to delink the news sites reasonably well but seem to struggle to cut out racist sexist far right conspiracy and just about every other undesirable conversation.

    Murdoch may well be interested in this but as the content providers have been financially weakened it has become so much harder to resist media aggregation. If this results in a lot more funding flowing to journalists and their organisations then the next step is to tackle media monopolies.

    Tim Berners Lee seems a little naive. If there can be an attack on the US senate then linking is not all good or fundamental. Plus how much money are all our economies spending on trying to keep net nasties under control. Profits have been privatised but a lot of the costs socialised and borne by individuals within the community.

    Be interesting to see what flowers grow in terms of new interactions on the Aussie net.

  9. David 9

    Feeling a little smug that I cancelled my Facebook account last year. No great loss and still so many ways to access quality local, national and international news. If anything, having to search out content, I’ve found myself reading a broader range of views and opinion.

  10. barry 10

    The model is wrong and the internet giants are not paying their way, but the legislation is VERY badly drafted. It is a two way street and finding the right balance is fiendishly difficult.

    The end result (whether facebook pays or doesn't play) is a disaster for small media outlets. Google is handing over a reasonable amount of money to a small number of big media outlets (think Murdoch). There are a lot of smaller publishers that will miss out, and find it even harder to compete.

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