In Media Bargaining Facebook and Google Aren’t Wrong but According to Them I’m Big News Anyway
Posted on February 20, 2021
Now Facebook’s crossed the line. That kid called Zuckerberg who pissed off America’s rich by becoming an overnight billionaire with a product that does nothing—thereby fomenting their greed that became the Global Financial Crisis—has blocked my little website from posting to my Facebook Wall in Australia. Do we still call it a “wall”?
As the story goes, Australia came up with an idea in the middle of a viral pandemic, to force Google and Facebook to pay for all news content sourced from Australian media businesses they host.
To illustrate, say someone finds an article from Australia’s ABC News Online and posts a link to it on their Facebook Wall for their Friends to click, Facebook, the federal government says, should compensate the ABC. Likewise, should Google return that same ABC story via their search engine for a click, they owe the ABC money too.
Well, Google after procrastinating and fist waving for a bit said “yes”.
Facebook, on seeing legislation for this Media Bargaining Code pass through the lower house of Australia’s parliament this week—still two steps from becoming law— said “no”.
And from Thursday, February 18, no media business in the world nor any Australian Facebook user could share links to news content Down Under any longer.
Thing is, according to Facebook I’m seen as a media business rivalling News Corp: because you can no longer share my content either—like this post. Not that I’ve ever asked Facebook to pay me, and totally ignoring the point that this is my writing, on my website, and under my copyright that I give to the world for free. Yes, like Murdoch’s The Herald-Sun, Sky and Fox News I’m blocked too.
I shouldn’t be too offended. You see, Facebook, that doyen of IT and social media prowess proved so incompetent in its blockade, it not only cancelled News Corp and me—but the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the World Wide Fund for Nature, Médecins Sans Frontières, The Royal Children’s Hospital, and a host of community and government Facebook pages dedicated to social issues, charities, domestic violence assistance, healthcare—and importantly, Australia’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout due to commence in three days’ time.
According to Melbourne’s The Age newspaper today (a quality Nine Entertainment and former Fairfax masthead whose link I can no longer post for fear of further angering the Venture Capital Kid—but I will credit its journalist, Zoe Samios), when Facebook embarked on its 1984-esque news purge:
The problem was, it used a broad definition of news that ensnared a range of pages that had nothing to do with professional media.
Indeed. And all due to a refusal by Facebook to pay for content without which it’s only half a shell of a social media platform.
Surprisingly to me, 49% of Facebook users sourced their news from their Facebook feeds. That’s now gone. Equally astonishing was that Facebook’s media tantrum had caused a slowing of traffic to media company websites by 13% too.
Now hold on: Is this only about money or is there something more sinister on the other side of this equation?
News Corp’s deal with Google has been quoted by numerous sources as “a significant amount of money”. Say we’re talking hundreds of millions (and I’m sure a centenary-million sum at least) Facebook can afford it: even if the UK, the US and other nations around the world eagerly watching Australia at war hop on the pay-for-content bandwagon too.
Yet, there is something else at work not spoken about here in defence of both Facebook and Google; LinkedIn and Twitter; and other news hosting or aggregation social platforms.
To use Facebook as an example:
- Facebook actually helps direct website traffic to media mastheads where revenue generating ads are seen.
- Many of these media mastheads already offer their online content for free.
Which leads to the question
If traditional media businesses and social media are currently in a win-win ecosystem, who’s then seeking to better leverage the paradigm?
That can only be News Corp whose TV and cable news operations, even before the downfall of Trumpism, were in existential throes.
Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd alluded to this yesterday, claiming the proposed Media Bargaining Code only served to shore up News Corp’s interests. He said so at a Senate hearing exploring his push for a Royal Commission into News Corp’s monopolistic and politically biased media practises.
“Ah!” I say still p’d off at being caught up in this passive-aggressive web. Just because Facebook and Google can pay, should they pay?
Journalists and those working in all facets of the media trade deserve remuneration for their efforts. Good journalism more than anything needs a complete rejuvenation of quality editorship itself decimated by cost-cutting this past decade. Yes. More money definitely needs to go into the making of news and its distribution.
But isn’t this a problem with the media businesses themselves?
If Facebook and Google Search are driving readers to news, where is the supporting marketing from these news services? Why are some still refusing to throw paywalls at their audiences? Why are some paywalls so expensive? Why do I have to pay a separate subscription for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald when both are owned by Nine Entertainment? Why is The Guardian free but News Corps’ The Australian not? When I click on a Google link that takes me to The Australian aren’t I already asked to pay for full access to it by News Corp?
As much as I’d like to say, “Sue the Zucker, break him apart, throw anti-monopolistic legalese at him and force his sale of Instagram and WhatsApp,” this guy’s business while untrustworthy for a number of already established privacy breaches, is not at fault alone in this anti-pay-for-media crusade.
So, the masters of the Cloud are filthy rich. So, they can buyout News Corp if they wished. So, the owner of Amazon and the world’s largest, most lucrative IT cloud, now wants to devote more time to the role of media magnate himself and his Washington Post.
This doesn’t obviate the fact that the problem with money-losing news sat with traditional media long before people turned to social platforms for its access.
Since September 11, 2001, there’s been a steady growth in scepticism of journalism, of mastheads promoting partisanship; of news turning into a 24/7 gameshow less and less nuanced in its coverage despite a world more than ever filled with constant narrative.
A whopping 60% of Americans don’t trust that the media is accurately and fairly reporting the news.
Said Forbes last October. There’s a “high level of distrust” in mass media said Gallup in September.
Asking social media platforms who feed news links to their source, to then fill this payment void is politicking unabashed.
It’s a clear case of what came first? Traditional media willingly and freely turned to social media in an effort to drive traffic to its dying newsrooms. Now it demands payment because its work still lacks value in the public eye?
Yes, it’s definitely time to shake up social media. Yes, it’s definitely time to break up Facebook—but also media monoliths like News Corp.
This battle over a bargaining code needs to take a step back by all sides. No one wins here, definitely not journalism. Unbiased media is what people require more.
And like two death stars on a collision course to oblivion, Mark Zuckerberg paying Rupert Murdoch for the journey is not going to save the information galaxy.
But he will pay anyway. Facebook went all in with a high card on Thursday and lost to a pair of deuces screwing the little folk like me.
© 2021 Adam Parker.
Picture credit: © 2021 Adam Parker.