When your whole country gets cancelled

no-australia

As of this morning, Australian media outlets – as well as government agencies – are not able to post anything on Facebook, and their articles and stories cannot be shared by anyone in the world using Mark Zuckerberg’s now somewhat anti-social network. This is Facebook’s retaliation for a law being introduced by the Australian government that would have companies like Facebook and Google pay Australian media outlets for having their content on their sites. Google has in fact just reached a global agreement with News Corp regarding content use, but Facebook is opting for a much more of a FU negotiating approach.

As much as I dislike Big Tech, I have so far been unable to see a good rationale for the new law. While the media keeps complaining that Facebook and Google (in particular) are monopolising the online advertising revenue, links to media stories are to my mind advertisements that drive online users to the source – and to the source’s advertisers. Perhaps it’s the media who should be paying the socials for this publicity. In the end, the war between the Big Tech and the Mainstream Media is one, to borrow from Henry Kissinger, it’s a pity that both sides can’t lose.

Apart from the fact that various health authorities around Australia are now unable to share COVID information on Facebook, the other ironic casualty of the Aust-Zuck spat is yours truly, whom Facebook has kindly deemed to be an Australian publisher, even though The Daily Chrenk media empire consists of a single ageing desktop in an inner Brisbane suburb utilised (all too rarely and irregularly) by yours truly for the love of it with no commercial element whatsoever. And so, the main avenue of promoting my new posts by sharing their links with the 1000-plus good people around the world who follow TDC page on Facebook has been (I hope only temporarily) lost to me. While it’s flattering to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with “The Australian”, I’m now somewhat confused: should Facebook be paying me when I voluntarily use their site to try to get eyeballs for my work? Thank you, Australian government, for thinking that should be the model. But it’s not a particularly honest one, as Graham Young noted earlier today:

This is not law, this is theft. While it might be legitimate to tax different kinds of companies at different rates and book the income to general revenue, it can never be legitimate to tax different companies at different rates and book the income to their competitors…

What we are seeing now is classic rent-seeking where legacy media, including some of the early online pioneers, are trying to penalise a successful competitor for having a better model.

Mainstream media claim that social media are profiting from their content, but this doesn’t stand scrutiny. If there was any theft in what Google and Facebook are doing it would be a breach of existing copyright law and the media companies would be able to claw back profit using it.

Still, the social media is on the roll. Having recently disappeared the then still sitting President of the United States and generally purging right-wing voices at will, it has now effectively done the same to a whole government plus an entire national media, and then some. Motivations are different; politics in the former case and the question of money in the latter, but if the past few weeks have served to demonstrate anything loud and clear it’s the big role the socials play in our lives and the correspondingly big power they wield and are not afraid to use. There are already many people who think both are too big, and, rightly or wrongly, the current Australian imbroglio will not win Big Tech any friends.

As the traditional period of Lent starts around the world, we now know that Facebook has chosen to give up Australia. I have been made to give up the blog outreach to my friends and readers. Personally, I would have rather chosen chocolate. In the past, it has been an internet meme that Australia doesn’t really exist. Now life imitates art, again.

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