The Technology in Our Lives

Facebook & Google vs. Australia: Are Misleading Headlines Hiding How Wrong Australia Is?

Facebook and Google may be evil, but perhaps they are right this time.

The News industry is in bad shape. We are in bad shape! Next to dying newsrooms, we are faced with misinformation at an all-time high.

“Most people don’t want to be confused with the facts.” ~Jay Bender, mayor of Pollocksville, North Carolina.

Reliable, impartial, and complete news reporting is crucial to democracy.

“Democracy cannot function without communication” ~Jon Krosnick.

We need to find a solution to dying newsrooms and the rise of misinformation.

But such a solution must be about news — from all reliable sources — not about supporting the bank account of a handful of news industry billionaires. Such a solution should not attack the fundamental principle that the internet belongs to no one and belongs to everyone.

We are going nowhere if we create 2 new problems for each one we fix.

In recent weeks, solutions to “reuse of news” by Google have been discussed in numerous countries. In January 2021, Google reached an agreement in France on paying publishers for news reuse. Canada is looking at legislative changes similar to those in Australia.

On the surface, we may be tempted to support such a trend unconditionally. First, we all like a good David and Goliath story, especially when the giant side includes Facebook that we all love to hate. Second, newsrooms employ people close to home while Facebook and Google are big bad wolves in California.

Yet, may we take a minute to look at the solution to ensure it is actually solving more than it is destroying?

It is not David vs. Goliath. It is Goliath vs. Goliath.

When reading headlines about the fight currently happening in Australia, one would think that the Australian government is fighting to protect defenseless journalists against evil giants. A Robin Hood story!

It is not.

Who is behind this new Australian legislation?

The likes of Rupert Murdoch are the ones pushing for the “News Media Bargaining Code." Murdoch’s News Corp is anything but a reference for honest journalism but more directly related to our current discussion, it’s a news empire!

“Australia’s newspaper ownership is among the most concentrated in the world” ~The Guardian.

What we see in Australia is a game of giant news corporations lobbying the government to introduce legislation that will help their bank accounts.

If the goal of the Australian government was to support online content, the law would not be limited to a handful of big corporations — it would apply to every online content creator.

Relying on headlines to judge the value of legislation is a dangerous thing to do.

This Type of Legislation Is a Step Toward News Monopolization in The Hand of The Rich

The proposed Australian bill wants to force Google and Facebook to send money to big news corporations.

Once this bill is in place, big corporations will simply have a strong upper hand on online news content. It’s another case of the rich getting richer and the poor being kept ignorant. Small online content creators will not get any support.

It’s the complete opposite of democratization.

It is scary to me to think that this could spread like wildfire around the world.

Already, Google’s search engine has been moving away from its original mission and is fast becoming a giant yellow-page-book for whoever wants to pay the most. Google is gradually making it more expensive for small businesses to reach an audience and for content creators to be found. Add the fact that only big content creation companies will get paid, and you have pretty much converted the internet to a tool for the rich. It’s one more step into a failed capitalist internet.

A solution to Google reusing content must help all content creators, not just the billionaires.

This problem is the same in Europe, Australia, and Canada. But Australia adds a cherry on the sundae with one more mind-boggling move.

Paying For Links is as Absurd as Paying for Word of Mouth

Among all the news headlines about Google and Facebook in Australia, I could not find a single one mentioning ‘links’. All I could read in news headlines is that Australia is fighting to support news content.

“Google and Facebook may have to pay for news in Australia under the proposed law. The companies, which take 81 percent of online advertising in Australia, have condemned the bill as unworkable.” ~NBC News

If that were true, it would be fine. But it is not.

First, the Australian government does not force Google and Facebook to pay for news. It forces them to pay giant news corporations.

Second, there is no mention of “paying for links” in that headline, but it is a serious issue.

“The draft legislation for Australia’s digital news Code which is currently before the parliament includes a controversial requirement that tech giants Google and Facebook pay publishers for linking to their content — not merely for displaying snippets of text.” ~TechCrunch.

We have already discussed at length how ridiculous this idea is.

The proposed Australian bill has now been amended “to clarify that publishers would be paid in lump sums rather than per click on news article links” (source: Washington Post).

Whether you make it a lump sum or per-piece payment, the principle behind it is wrong. And dangerous.

“What Google’s payment to News Corp. demonstrates is that media blackmail works. Even if this is not a payment to pay directly for links, this is still a terrible precedent for the net and its architecture and ethic. No one, not Google, not you or I, should be pressured into paying for linking to content.” ~Jeff Jarvis

If somebody uses your content, then somebody should pay you. It’s the basic principle behind copyright and intellectual property. But if I only link to your content, then I shouldn't be paying you. I just linked to an NBC News article. Should I send money to NBC?

If I tell my friends about the good service I got at my local Toyota dealer, should I pay the Toyota dealer? A link to my content is as good to me as word of mouth. Please do it as much as you want!

This Australian approach is beyond ridiculous. It makes me wonder if the Australian bill was written by old baby boomers who need help from their assistants to use the internet.

Reasons to Dislike Google

I am not trying to defend Google. They seem to be stealing content for extreme financial gains. Furthermore, recent Google Ads changes make it harder for content creators to be found and for small businesses to reach potential clients. Google is far from its original ‘don’t be evil’ motto. But this Australian bill is about supporting news, and on that front, it is off the mark.

Reasons To Dislike Facebook

I am defending Facebook even less!

To me, Facebook is a giant company born unethically and continuing to make money unethically. But that’s my personal opinion and beating up Facebook is not the same as actually supporting online content creators and newsrooms.

On a side note, Facebook blocked news sharing in Australia earlier this week. Everybody around the world was up in arms. Why?

What is bad about Facebook blocking news sharing on its platform in Australia?

In the short-term, if you remove professional newsroom content from Facebook, you are probably giving more room to misinformation. That’s a big problem getting bigger. But in the long run, I can’t help but wonder: Do we need news sharing on Facebook? This is supposed to be a social network. Perhaps it would be good if Facebook wasn’t a source of information at all.

Facebook spreads fake news faster than any other social website. Will there ever be a solution to this problem? If not, perhaps a total absence of any kind of news could be a solution!

Reasons to Dislike News Corporations

In all of these discussions about Google & Facebook vs. newsrooms, we seem to forget the role the news industry played in its demise.

The problems facing news media businesses go much beyond Google’s questionable business practices. For the most part, traditional news media outlets have simply moved the distribution of their content from a printed format to a website without changing much of anything else.

Perhaps the news industry needs to get back to the drawing board and work on a new business model. Blaming the guy next door is too easy! Remember how drastically the music industry has changed in recent years — for the worse, some would say, but it changed. Do you see many changes in the news industry? Me either!

In that regard, forcing the rich (Google and Facebook) to send money to a handful of news industry companies is simply a subsidy that will fix the news problem as much as a plaster would fix a broken limp.

Furthermore, for news organizations to get my sympathy, they need to get back to producing news instead of shallow entertainment and superficial articles. Some of our current news outlets have very little to do with news.

In Summary:

We should all be interested in finding solutions to problems faced by the news industry. News is key for a healthy society.

However, solutions should:

  1. support news — all reliable news — not the bank account of a handful of news moguls;
  2. address the reuse of news, not the mere linking to the news source; and
  3. force the news industry into redefining a business model that is viable in 2021 instead of simply subsidizing a dead one.

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