Australia’s Facebook Petty Unfriending

Facebook shocked the world last week with a brutal ban on all news content for an entire continent. Like many things the platform has done, its action has been awkward: In Australia’s process of banning news sites, Facebook managed to turn off the light on women’s shelters, nonprofits , charities and public health information pages, and this week he already had ad plans to change course – soon, temporarily.

The immediate impacts have been that Facebook’s main product is less attractive, less traffic is routed to publishers, and a broad coalition of society is angry with Facebook. Keep in mind that according to some local polls, Facebook was already Australia’s most suspicious brand.

On some level, the story seems simple: Facebook doesn’t like a new law that will cost it money. Rather than pay, he left, hoping other countries would think twice before doing something similar.

On a deeper level, this moment brings to mind a set of fundamental and conflicting views about the role of national governments in relation to global businesses, and what it will take to preserve a vibrant ecosystem of Internet services, including a niche sustainable for journalism within it. .

The bill at the center of the conflict is Australia’s News media and digital platforms Mandatory trading code. Almost certain to be adopted, especially after the Facebook stunt, its broad support across the political spectrum has been underpinned by the perception of a sassy Facebook testing the nation’s resolve. Once enacted, it requires market-dominant digital platforms to negotiate revenue sharing agreements for the news content they distribute.

In its public comments, Facebook insists that the more distant residents have “fundamentally misunderstood“The Internet. Don’t they realize that free link sharing is the way the web works and media companies benefit from it?

Ignorance of these basic facts would indeed be surprising on the part of a nation whose technological contributions include Wireless, Google maps, and possibly Bitcoin, and whose fourth largest export is higher education. A quick peek at the insightful 623 page report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission responsible for the legislation should lead anyone to question this interpretation.

In fact, the law does not restrict the sharing of links on classic web pages or applications, only dominating the market those. It doesn’t just mean “big”. It means so giant and unrestrained by competition that they become the gatekeepers of the industry, or “essential business partners»To newspaper companies.

On an estimate 30 trillion Internet pages, this only concerns those of two companies: Facebook and Google. You could build a search engine or social platform tomorrow and grow it larger than the GDP of entire nation states, and still wouldn’t have to. Twitter, Snap, Spotify, Amazon, and Apple can link to anything they want, and no one can ask them to pay for anything. What they cannot do (if they want to avoid the provisions of the law) is take control of the local market.

Opponents have raised questions about the clarity of that line and who will determine it. But the regulator makes the determination obvious: Facebook has more than 50% of the display advertising market in Australia, while its closest competitors do not even reach 5%. It’s as crisp and clear as the lines become.

For platforms that cross the line, the law does not tax or fine. It subjects them to scrutiny over the agreements they make with news producers, which includes compulsory arbitration. The arbiter ensures that agreements reflect an outcome that would be expected from a balanced negotiation, rather than allowing the keeper to exploit his position with a “take it or leave it” offer. Negotiating frameworks like this are familiar to Australians in other contexts, such as between unions and employers, and industry ombudsmen play a much more active role in defending consumer rights in the country. The result is a market that is noticeably less affected by scams and injustices than the typical American experience – and voters who expect their governments to control overly greedy business forces.

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