Hidden from View - restraints on Social activity in Australia
The last week has seen a major power play between Facebook and the Australian government (AusGov). AusGov wants to charge social media giants (particularly Google and Facebook) for using Australian media links on their search engines and platforms.
The code is structured so that if Facebook and Google do not sign commercial deals with traditional media outlets the Treasurer can "designate" them, and force them to pay for access to news content.
Georgia Hitch | Political Reporter
ABC News (via the app): Facebook to reverse news ban on Australian sites, government to make amendments to Media Bargaining Code
Google threatened to block Australia from using its search engine. I don’t know what the behind-the-scenes machinations involved, but they have, apparently, backed down. Facebook put their threat into action by blocking all English-language news from Australian users. For the last few days, Australians have not been able to access news (specifically English-language news) via their Facebook feed. No biggy really, you’d think. There are plenty of alternative methods of obtaining news online, like going to the source via websites and apps. Or visit the local news agency and swap a couple of dollars for the paper and ink version.
The biggest uproar concerned the broad sweep of Facebook accounts and websites caught up in the struggle. From the Bureau of Meteorology, emergency services, government pages, charities, indie and satire media, publishers and authors, if you could be identified as some kind of news you were gone. Even some Facebook owned pages were included. Facebook blamed the government wording of their Media Bargaining Code and a thorough lack of understanding of how social media works (and fundamentally, what is “news”). Left open to interpretation, Facebook took it at face value (no pun intended) and hid any site that provided information for the community benefit regarding their content as news. The suggestion that it actually was a push pull between media moguls, tech platforms and the Australian government did not go unnoticed. After all, who are the ultimate “losers” when Facebook huffs off into its virtual corner?
Facebook have been working to rectify the removal of the unintended victims of the purge. And now, it seems, they’ve agreed to return to the negotiation table. Ausgov will adjust the wording of the Code and give the tech platforms more time to negotiate with the “news” publishers and FB will reverse their hold on news to Australians.
The outcome for many Facebook users, as it was with Google, is to start looking around for alternatives. Everyday users and the smaller outlets are the ones that were most impacted by this, not the large media publishers.
Facebook’s actions bring to the light other issues such as why they can so decisively take action against being regulated but not against the spread of misinformation and violence? Is it wise for a handful of companies to have such control over access to information? Is it time for a more altruistic less bottom-line platform for sharing information (is such a thing even possible?)
I’m not sure how many people actually noticed there was no hard “news” on Facebook (hello, Twitter!) or even cared. It was all the other dominoes falling that people felt. Perhaps its time to stop playing “their” games.
If you’d like to hear more about the whole affair, have a listen to the Start Making Sense crew break it down on Facts Get Zucc’d