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Facebook

Facebook Unfriends Australia: The Triumph of Epistemic Chaos

Creepy and ruthless Facebook has again impressed with its steely indifference to civic responsibility, as if a company established by a sociopath could ever be a model of human improvement. On February 18, Mark Zuckerberg’s antisocial company took aim at Australia by blocking those in that country from sharing local and international content. As the company notice to those trying to share material went: “In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook generally restricts the posting of news links and all post from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

As with previous thugs of mercenary trade (the Dutch East India Company and its British equivalent come to mind), Facebook is keen to make the rules it likes, and ignore those of the commonweal. It is a plundering pioneer in the world of surveillance capitalism, which has led to what Shoshana Zuboff calls an “epistemic coup” with “unprecedented computational concentrations of knowledge and power” gathered by extracting data elitists. These elitists, in turn, trash such concepts as the rule of law and democracy in the name of profits.

As she explained in her keynote speech at last year’s EU Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment panel, “These corporations are not publishers, they are not distributors, they are not merely adtech providers; they are indiscriminate, radically indifferent all-you-can-eat extractors of everything forever, all for the sake of prediction that become more lucrative as they approach certainty.”

Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code is one such proposed imposition on these extractive qualities, though it does little to actually redress the central principles Facebook and Google operate under. The Code, as it stands, is a compendium of defects sold as politics rather than sound structural change. In it, the Australian government hopes not to restrict surveillance capitalism so much as redirect it.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission the Code would “address the fundamental bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and major digital platforms.” It’s all a problem of revenue: the fourth estate is dying, having lost its classified advertising base; the Australian government, unenthused by ideas of creating funding schemes or taxing Big Tech, has come to the conclusion that these giants will subsidize and ultimately regenerate old media outlets. To do so, it proposes making companies reach, through good will negotiations, bargains by which revenue can be distributed.

While making wild presumptions of what platforms such as Facebook do with the news (referrals, shares and so forth), the government will also require these Silicon Valley hulks to notify media organisations of any change in their search algorithms and abide by an arbitration mechanism. Disputes on the amount of revenue will then go to an arbitration body. Such scenes promise to be messy: media moguls hunkering down to discussions with such amoral practitioners as Facebook.

The blocking of news content on the Facebook platform precipitated a range of consequences, some of them possibly surprising to Zuckerberg and his crew. The Facebook pages of news organisations were immediately emptied of content. Australia’s ABC put it like this: “If you search for the Facebook pages of (for example) ABC News, the Sydney Morning Herald, the New York Times, and the BBC, you’ll see a blank feed saying ‘No posts yet.’”

This was not all. The draft Code has a definition of news content of some breadth, which purports to be any material that “reports, investigates, or explains issues that are relevant in engaging Australians in public debate.” When approached for comment on the issue, Facebook confirmed it has pushed its own reading to the limits, citing a lack of clarity. “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.” Not that the law has been implemented, but Facebook has been quick on the draw. Snottily, the company promises to “reverse any Pages that are inadvertently impacted.”

Government pages were also caught up in the dramatic scrub, including the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland Health and an assortment of commercial and retail outlets. The blocking of content on the bureau’s site was considered particularly galling, given cases of flooding in Queensland and fire danger in Western Australia. “Warnings need to get to as wide an audience as possible as a matter of safety,” tweeted ABC weather presenter Nate Byrne. “Shocking.”

 

 

Smaller community news outlets, trade unions, homeless charities, and various local controlled health services were also enveloped in the information clean. Indigenous communities have been particularly bruised. According to the National Indigenous Times, “Indigenous health and media groups fear Facebook’s pushback will have a dangerous impact on regional and remote communities during [the] wet season and the COVID-19 epidemic, with concerns communities will not have access to vital updates on flood warnings or the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services saw the issue of blocking content on its site as a matter of rights, restricting an invaluable means of connecting with the community. “This is a human rights issue, silencing the voices of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people, our representative peak bodies.”

In going for the Australian throat, Facebook has resorted to a different approach from that other giant of amoral propensities, Google. Google has repeatedly threatened to withdraw its search engine from Australia for similar grievances against the draft Code. But the company has been aggressively negotiating and buttering up Australian media outlets for its News Showcase. The Australian government sees this as a triumph, a strange interpretation given the positively pyrrhic nature of any such outcomes. Google can well argue to have come out better in the deal, its business model left intact.

The time has come to reconsider the very operating rationale of such companies in an effort to address their singular monopoly position. Solutions are not merely to be found in government regulation and antitrust approaches. The very allegiance shown to such platforms by their captive users will have to change. The time has come to save the human project from surveillance capitalism.

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17 comments

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  1. Josephus

    Use other search engines, and forget Facebook which like other similar behemoths largely exploits self centred humans telling the world what they had for breakfast.

  2. Freedomlover

    Fakebook is a scourge and we do not need it. It is a prime example of total greed, and is totally immersed in censoring anything that its deep state masters decree that the public should not be aware of. Get rid of Fakebook from Australia and we will all be better off.

  3. Williambtm

    Before this menacing, personally invasive Facebook, Australia’s people have managed to communicate with each other quite capably.
    Beware, a take-all charter to gain from its followers yet fail to provide anything of like value in return.
    (Not an unknown propensity beloved of American corporations now infesting our sovereign nation by courtesy of the current malign government.)

  4. Baby Jewels

    I’m not a huge Facebook fan but on this, I’m on their side. If you think Facebook should pay for news content, then perhaps the rest of us should pay for what we put on Fb as well? Or get off Facebook? The news media post on Fb which in turn acts as their advertising, drawing eyes to their site and subscribers, in other words, it benefits the media. And you think Fb should pay for that? https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=1126473714459760&set=a.241389419634865

  5. Baby Jewels

    Williambtm, I get four independent newspapers into my inbox daily, some twice daily. I also get some news on Facebook. The majority of discussion on Fb about news items is about Liberal corruption which is uncovered daily. This government has effectively put a stop to that discussion. So whilst they are propping up Rupert, at the same time they are benefiting by preventing discussion about their appalling behaviour. Win/win for them. Meanwhile, most people don’t get four newspapers into their inbox daily, so without the Fb discussions about Liberal corruption, they wouldn’t even know about it. Fortunately all is not lost. Fb are tolerating cut and pastes of articles and screenshots.

  6. Williambtm

    Thanks for that. So long as the truth is still accessible.

  7. ajogrady

    Has the world turned upside down? The party of free and open markets, small government, less government interference in business is running a protection racket for one American billionaires business against another American billionaires business and is openly advocating socialist corporate welfare payments. While protecting their media billionaires failing business model they are horrified that the unprotected billionaires successful business pulled the free government announments from his platform that their protected billionaire media cszar rakes in hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funded monies from charging for government announcements. All this supposedly to protect free and unbiased journalism while the Murdoch puppet government systematically dismantles the only body who has a charter to protect free and unbiased journalism, the ABC. The Australian LNP government are now complicit in a blackmail attempt conceived by Murdoch.

  8. A Commentaror

    This article is informed and balanced. Facebook has misused it’s monopoly power and acts against the public interest. It lacks a moral compass, remember it allowed livestreaming of the Christchurch terrorist attack. An ethical company would have provided several months notice of this change in service, to allow it’s customers to make alternative arrangements. It did not consider the consequences of its decision of charities and NFP organisations
    It is pointless making partisan comments about the Facebook bully, and criticising that hugely and hugely profitable company cannot be seen as endorsing Murdoch or Morrison.

  9. Stu Cook

    Rubbish Scummo brought this on himself , so he and Rupert can not be censored.

  10. Gangstas Paradise

    Straight of the mark…. I dumped FB 5 years ago, never used it much and am always surprised that anyone would use FB to become informed as to what is making news eg car crash, murder in the next suburb, Palestinians being starved by their protectorate Israel etc , the “news”.

    From my perspective to see all the MSM plus Guardian Australia ….. having joined forces to screw money out of GOOGLE and fuck the smaller talented players such as “THE AIMN” and many others out of the field of Journalism and political opinion ……at every opportunity to fight on the side of the Murdoch’s.

    Welcome to the new Australia, whereby instead of the Murdoch’s having a stranglehold on right wing news you now have Guardian Australia sitting at the same table with the Murdoch’s, Channel 9 and Kerry Stokes and just to make sure there is not a skerrick of doubt Guardian Australia has an attack FB piece at the bottom of any Article that pushes the govt line.

    If you subscribe to GA then you are feeding right wing opinion and would be far better off subscribing to “The AIMN” and other small left wing web sites.

  11. Gangstas Paradise

    Guardian Australia is in full on attack mode against Face Book …….. alongside the Murdoch’s and the Morrison govt ……. as well as taking money from one of the worlds top 20 companies (Alphabet, the owner of Google).

    If you want to give money to trusted journalism then GA would be down the bottom alongside News Corpse.

  12. leefe

    I despise Zuckerberg, and Fakebook sucks, but they are not the villains here. This is all down to Mudrake and ScoMoFo. They tried muscling and bluffing their way to more power and more money and it’s blown up in their faces.
    Or, rather, in the faces of Australian FB users.

    Why should anyone pay their customers for using their services? Because that is what this amounts to. Media companies voluntarily use FB to extend their reach. It’s a free service. Following links takes you to the content providers’ pages; they have not been robbed of anything. I’ve seen far more copy/pasting of articles since this happened than ever before, so the law achieved the opposite of what was supposedly intended.

    It’s a bad law, proposed and written in bad faith, and it’s received an appropriate response.

  13. Gangstas Paradise

    “It’s a bad law, proposed and written in bad faith, and it’s received an appropriate response.”

    Guardian Australia has approx. 22% of the Google pie and people are still flocking to their site because they just don’t read enough independent news and opinion.

    Zuckerberg’s data would have told him that the Australian public will do bugger all and the Australian govt has shot their load and can only throw peanuts at him.

    If Morrison tries to go harder FB will throw the free trade book at him.

  14. wam

    Who concedes that the legislation is flawed? Who concedes FB zuckered rupert, scummo and fryder? Who concedes that acting quickly in a new area may result in applying sanctions too zealously? Who concedes FB acted quickly to redress the situation and expressed an apology? “….The company uses human reviewers to assess whether a piece of content is news. But to implement this week’s intended ban, it compiled a list of pages it believed fell under the proposed laws and then used machine learning and artificial intelligence to remove content….” Noticed ‘proposed laws’, who concedes they might be ill-thought out and vague??? Zuck is a young multi-billionaire and why should he pay an old billionaire for what I post for the amusement of friends or for what I repost when there is a trump or hannity article that my rabbottians are in agreement. Hard to for me to believe but koch’s sunrise put it down to scummo making sure murdoch knows who to support at the next election. Unlike hunt’s government announcement under the liberal party logo. Frtddy said the gov will not advertise on FB but I bet he liberals party will.
    It has a few crinkles to work out but the bottom line is the tax situation who pays??? Where are you on tax, albo? Game enough to reveal their tax payment and your stance on that???

  15. Kronomex

    Saint Scotty of the Rupert Bicycle Rack came in with his hobnail boots and assorted thugs to look after his master. Google folded (too much money at stake) but Zuckerberg told him where to get off. The only comeback LNP and crew had as a comeback was to paint FB as evil, nasty, and anti-‘strayan. Ultimately I think Zuckerberg will fold and The Murdoch will get more free money and become even more powerful and entrenched in the media landscape. Scummo and Crony Co. Inc. crew will call it a victory wait eagerly for extra monthly bickies and tummy tickles from their hero and we’ll lose. Again.

    Back to listening to a couple of episodes of The Goon Show.

  16. Williambtm

    The stark revelations coming forward from persons afflicted with and by the L/NP false-fake take on life for all Australians have become glowingly apparent. Our nation’s people will not abide being so poorly governed.
    Dare ye do this to the people of Australia, Scomo, and your sly-bellied pack members. Shame on you them and your Hillsong cult.

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