IF you believe the senior columnists at The Weekend Australian, we spend most of our time in a state of panic about cyclones, floods and coronavirus. We cannot get a weather report from any other source, cannot hear the latest on a pandemic the mainstream media have been cynically hyping for click dividends for a year, cannot telephone a hospital, cannot get advice from a rural fire brigade. In short, without news and emergency service links on Facebook, we’re all going to die – possibly during an attack of the killer tomatoes.
This is a power play shootout never seen before. It is a war between Australian sovereignty and global digital monopoly. It pits Australian lawmaking democracy against the big tech “masters of the universe” in the form of Facebook deploying its media power against Australia…
Facebook verified the need for the bargaining code by showing its willingness to sabotage news and public interest content to further its financial interest; it showed by this action it was not just a publisher asserting its rights over content but an irresponsible publisher; it was ready to use the 11 million Australians using Facebook as collateral damage in its intimidation campaign; and it exposed its contempt for the Australian government and, beyond that, for Australian sovereignty.
Facebook has left itself open to class-action lawsuits and could even face prosecution after the pages of hundreds of charities, groups and government agencies were “unconscionably” caught up in the platform’s wiping of Australian news content this week…
Allan Fels, the chair of Public Interest Journalism and the former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said Facebook was not demonstrating their social license to operate.
“It is unconscionable for Facebook to limit access to Australian Government information, be it weather, health or bushfire information,” Professor Fells said in a statement.
No matter how large US energy giant Standard Oil was before it was famously broken up in 1911, it didn’t also control the flow of all digital information. It might have charged consumers too much, but it couldn’t distort their beliefs or opinions.
The Australian here. Check the BOM here. COVID latest here. In an emergency, phone triple 0. No worries.
There has been no sabotage, limitation or unconscionable control wielded over any of these sites, neither public or private. Josh Frydenberg has been boasting this week that his new media laws constitute global leadership. Now, while a portion of Kelly’s argument today is conceivably true – that Mark Zuckerberg has decided to take a stand in Australia to frighten other states and avoid revenue losses that could be massive if the Treasurer’s model becomes an international template – it misses the wider geo-political and cultural point.
While the target of the Frydenberg gambit is novel, the thinking behind it is just old-fashioned protectionism. It’s a minimum price for potatoes, a complaint that we need fries and a denial that fish and chip shops abound. What governments should do – and what is genuinely hard – is pass laws to make Big Tech liable for crippling damages if and when they violate free speech. The law should be hair-triggered to blast them for the kind of corrupt gamesmanship exhibited during the US presidential election. Speak to your Polish counterpart, Josh. Imitate him and I’ll be impressed. This is the reform our democracy desperately needs.