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Science | PSHE

All eyes on Murdoch as Facebook row deepens

Was Facebook right to ban news content in Australia? As the tech giant responds to a new law, some warn this is a battle with only one real winner – controversial media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Around the world, politicians and journalists were united in apoplectic fury. “#Delete Facebook,” urged the front page of the Metro, one of the UK’s biggest newspapers. “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today... were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” declared Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the US, one politician went even further to condemn the company. “If it is not already clear, Facebook is not compatible with democracy,” announced David Cicilline, a Congressman from Rhode Island. “Threatening to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate admission of monopoly power.” But what is all the outrage really about? Last Thursday morning, Australia’s Facebook users woke up to a new reality. For months, the country’s lawmakers have been locked in a fierce battle with the tech giant over a proposed new law to make Google and Facebook pay media organisations for using their news content. Now, with the new law set to go ahead, Facebook has played its ultimate trump cardbanning news content from its Australian users altogether. For Facebook’s executives, the decision was obvious. “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share content,” argues William Easton, Facebook’s Australian managing director. Facebook points out that it is a social media website, not an information hub. Journalism accounts for only 4% of all the content viewed on the platform by Australians. Yet last year, Facebook directed an astonishing five billion clicks to Australia’s news outlets, boosting the latter’s profits by £225m. To put it simply, news media needs Facebook more than Facebook needs news media. Moreover, critics say the new law, which was pushed heavily by controversial media boss Rupert Murdoch, violates the fundamental principle of a free and open internet by demanding payment for web traffic. “This fight was not ‘Facebook v. Australia’ or ‘Facebook v. journalism’ even though some ignorant or dishonest people are making it out to be the case,” writes tech blogger Mike Masnick. “This was always ‘Rupert Murdoch v. the open web.’” Indeed, with the divisions between global tech giants and Australia’s politicians widening by the hour, it is Murdoch himself who seems to be emerging as the real winner. In January, Google threatened to remove its search engine from Australia if the country went ahead with the new law. But last week, the tech titan caved to lawmakers’ demands, striking deals to pay three major publishers, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, to use their content. Now, Google too is under fire for funding News Corp, an organisation one academic recently described as “a propaganda operation masquerading as a news service”. Was Facebook right to ban news content in Australia? Face-off Definitely not, say some. Facebook may be a private company, but its role in providing access to the news to millions of people makes it more like a public service. Cutting off Australians from the news overnight was clearly wrong. And whatever it says, Facebook makes money from people using its platform to read the news. Meanwhile, media organisations worldwide are struggling to survive. Absolutely, say others. This was a Catch-22 situation for Facebook – condemned if they paid News Corp, or condemned if they blocked Australian users from accessing news. In the end, Facebook made the right decision. Sharing web links freely and openly is one of the fundamental principles of the open internet. Giving in to a new form of tax would have set a dangerous precedent. KeywordsRupert Murdoch - An Australian businessman who has amassed a vast media empire since the 1970s. He has been accused of using the media outlets he controls to further his own business interests.

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