The Irish Times view on Big Tech: Australia vs Facebook

The social media giant has threatened to block users in Australia from sharing news stories on its network

Facebook warned on Monday that it would block users and news organisations in Australia from sharing local and international news stories on its social network and Instagram if the country passed a proposed code of conduct aimed at curbing the power of Facebook and Google. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Facebook warned on Monday that it would block users and news organisations in Australia from sharing local and international news stories on its social network and Instagram if the country passed a proposed code of conduct aimed at curbing the power of Facebook and Google. Photograph: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

 

Australia’s attempt to help the news media face up to the monopoly power of social media giants has prompted Facebook to warn that it will impose a ban on Australians sharing news on its platform. The sharing of personal content would not be affected, but one-third of Australians currently get their news from Facebook.

New legislation would require digital platforms to pay news organisations for content currently disseminated free – copyright “theft”, say newspapers – at a time when the platforms have also been benefiting from a huge shift of ad revenue to the tech giants. Media problems have been exacerbated by coronavirus, which has contributed to the closure of dozens of Australian newspapers.

The Australian government says the new law addresses the “fundamental bargaining power imbalance” between news media and digital platforms and will introduce an arbitration system to rule on fees that social media groups must pay to media companies. Facebook complains the measure would allow news organisations to charge it for any amount of content that they put up online and that it is already prepared to share some of its ad revenue. Critics say it is willing to remove trusted journalism from its site but will allow disinformation and conspiracy theories to flourish.

News organisations internationally will watch the battle closely. In Spain in 2014 a law requiring aggregators like Google to pay to link to news articles saw Google withdraw its news service, while in France, Google responded to similar attempts by only providing links from headlines. Some argue that an internationally agreed tax on digital companies is a better approach.

In April, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he thought the new Government would probably consider measures to oblige the tech giants, which he described as “sort of free riders on costs incurred by other people”, to share ad revenues “more fairly” with news and other content producers. Google and Facebook last year collected an estimated 40 per cent of total ad spend in Ireland, some 80 per cent of the online ad market.

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