By Leonie Saunders
What the Morrison government aided and abetted by the ineptitude of a sycophantic Opposition is a travesty.
Comparing Facebook to Google with regards to the distribution of news is like comparing apples with oranges.
The only comparison that can be made is that like Murdoch’s NewsCorp, Google and Facebook do not pay taxes – see Crikey’s article – “Tax dodging News Corp continues to rip Australia off – and is subsidised by taxpayers to do so“. Unfortunately, for verification purposes one of the many consequences of the Government’s pernicious agenda to undermine public interest journalism being shared on Facebook is I am unable to share the link to Crikey.
Now for some clarity as to the current travesty the Morrison Government is promulgating.
To begin with, unlike Facebook, Google’s search engine scrapes (indexes) news content that publishers do not provide voluntarily. Google has long been moving to an answer engine and not a search engine for sometime and has been coming under fire from many who rely on search traffic for their business. In short, Google is known for not paying for the content that supports its free search engine which drives its business model (advertising, i.e. using your data and traffic history to support an advertising business model).
On the other hand, whilst it is true that Facebook also sells our data to advertisers, it does not scrape (index) content on other websites into its platform. The reason news publishers and Government willingly post information on Facebook is due to the size of its Australian information sharing audience. News publishers and governments willingly add links on Facebook in the hope that its users will follow the links to their respective websites.
I can’t help but conclude that Murdoch – as an inherent monopolist – is jealous that it wasn’t he who cornered the social media market. Which, come to think of it, is somewhat oxymoronic given that if Murdoch owned Facebook, the social ingredient would no longer exist.
That most significant aspect revealed in the law that the Morrison Government proposes is that the government – and indeed the political class and mainstream news media journalist alike – are fundamentally averse to open public debate. Glass-jawed egotists populating Government and news media outlets are typically hostile to their work being viewed through a critical lens. Facebook providing a platform for critical thinking Australians to engage in open political debate is anathema to them. Indeed, critical thinking is the nuts and bolts of grass roots ‘journalism’. But more on that in a bit.
This law like most that the Australian government is proposing to introduce next week is inept and full of holes. It is extraordinarily vague in its application and understanding. Equally inept was Facebook shutting down some Government and non-Government pages. And despite the fact that the majority of these pages were quickly reinstated, the failure of media organisations to report the news accurately without cherry-picking to support their bias is proven by the fact that we are not getting that information from them now, are we?
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that PR-wise the people running Facebook in Australia were stupidly ham-fisted. Fancy giving the Government a big stick talking point to divert public attention from the real travesty going on with the legislation being proposed.
With respect to the nature of this page, let us ‘connect the dots’ behind the motivation behind this proposed law. The Murdoch press hides the majority of its content behind a paywall; wanting its users to pay for the content they publish. Whilst that is a business model Murdoch’s NewsCorp and other publishers have the right to pursue. It is ironic that they complain the loudest by using a ‘free’ platform like Facebook which allows them to drive significant traffic to these paywalls by people sharing news articles.
Facebook claims the company generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth an estimate of AU$407 million and News makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their news feeds.
The Government wants Facebook to pay for any links shared to news articles. The same links that go to a paywall wants you to pay for reading said content. This approach flies in the face of the democratic integrity that people sharing information on the Internet was originally designed to facilitate. Furthermore, aided and abetted by a sycophantic Labor Opposition, the Morrison Government is setting up a double-dipping system in which paywalled news outlets like Murdoch’s NewsCorp will benefit twofold.
Now that Google has created a ‘news showcase’ product that will pay millions of dollars to news publishers, as it should if it’s using content for its benefit, the public can only hope that rather than the clickbait headline shit put out by Murdoch et al, the money paid to news publishers by Google will not be sucked up by the major shareholders, but instead will go towards quality investigative journalism that is sorely lacking in the modern Western world’s mainstream commercial media outlets. We must never forget that as a search engine Google is inextricably intertwined with the content it indexes.
Back to the support of grass roots journalism.
I ask you, are Australia’s high quality independent news media publishers, freelance journalists and even pages like ours going to receive any financial compensation for publishing, discussing, critiquing and critically analysing news stories? I think not.
It will only be the big players who get compensated in this ‘law’. Ipso facto this is not a law proposed to support public interest journalism at all. But rather, it is crafted to support Mr Murdoch’s media empire.
Are academics going to be compensated for the valuable information they provide for free through articles shared oh Facebook? Information which is of a far higher standard than the powerful media monopolies which use their position to push their owner’s political agendas.
One could also propose that this action plays very nicely into the hands of the Government who would rather tear down and disperse the audience from the new ‘public square’ of debate. How fortuitous it is that Government policies and actions will not be as easily discussed or shared across the 40% of Australians who use Facebook for their news. How easily would we learn of the mishandling of Dutton’s grant applications or pork barrelling sports grants leading up to an election? This list of this Government’s crimes and misdemeanours goes on and on. Controlling social media is an early sign of Fascism. The public’s ability to share and disseminate information so widely via the Internet has concerned Governments for many years now. Authoritarian governments ban the platform completely in their countries so the public cannot voice their dissent.
So whilst the Government protests Facebook removing the information posted by this country’s news outlets on the platforms pages, I would argue it’s a smokescreen as this law plays just nicely into keeping the public silenced in respect to the dissemination of news and current affairs that has for far to long been under NewsCorp’s control.
The blessing and curse of the Internet is the huge amount of information available to us, both good and often very bad. It is a reflection of our society.
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