Facebook’s Decision to “Unfriend” Australia Shows Exactly Why Government Action is Necessary to Rein In Big Tech
In a shameful move that puts profits over peoples’ health and the sustainability of democracies around the world, Facebook decided to bar Australians from finding or sharing news on its service rather than pay news outlets for their content. This greedy and petulant move is a direct response to new proposed legislation in Australia which would force tech platforms to pay publishers for content. Facebook’s decision only highlights just how important it is for governments to take aggressive action to rein in the power of the tech giants.
Facebook, which gobbled up $86 billion in revenue in 2020, a more than 20% increase on the year before, has profited off news content shared on its platform while gaining valuable user data to fuel its advertising business and undercut the ad market for news publishers. Rather than paying for news content–which would be pocket change for them–to help keep the journalism industry alive, it just blocked news companies’ pages and posts. But in addition to news publishers, fire and emergency services, domestic violence charities, state health agencies and other organizations were also affected by the restrictions.
Meanwhile, Google has already announced that it has made an agreement with News Corp which will allow the media organization’s US, UK, and Australian publications to participate in Google’s News Showcase. It certainly is better for Google to pay for news content than not, but regulators must ensure that these types of licensing deals do not only go to the biggest players. Local news outlets on the brink of shutting down need the revenue boost far more than global media conglomerates.
The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, former Senior Politics Reporter for HuffPost who was laid off in January 2019, and co-founder of the Save Journalism Project:
“We are in the middle of a global pandemic, where health information is critical to the general population’s well-being, and Facebook decides it is ok to block this information from their platform. It’s not only shameful, but greedy and petulant. While Melbourne is once again on lockdown, Facebook would rather spread misinformation and block reliable news and the government health agency than pay a tiny fraction of their revenue to news publishers.
Facebook’s shenanigans should not overshadow the new agreement between Google and News Corp. This is also in response to the Australian government’s actions, and while it is a good step that they are agreeing to pay the News Corp publications for their content, regulators must not forget about the local publishers who are critical in providing news to smaller, often underserved communities.”