All eyes on Murdoch as Facebook row deepens

Divisions down under: Politicians accuse Facebook of bullying. It says it won’t put money in Murdoch’s pocket.

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.

Politicians and journalists were united in apoplectic fury.

“#Delete Facebook,” urged the front page of the Metro.

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today... were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” declared Australia’s Prime Minister.

What is the outrage about?

Last Thursday, Australia’s Facebook users woke up to a new reality.

Lawmakers have been locked in a battle with the tech giant over a proposed new law to make Google and Facebook pay media for their content.

With the new law set to go ahead, Facebook has banned news content from Australian users.

Facebook points out it is a social media site, not an information hub. Journalism accounts for 4% of the content viewed by Australians. Last year, Facebook directed five billion clicks to Australia’s news outlets, boosting the latter’s profits by £225m.

News media needs Facebook more than Facebook needs news media.

Critics say the law violates the fundamental principle of a free internet by demanding payment for traffic.

In January, Google threatened to remove itself from Australia if the new law went ahead. Finally, the tech titan caved, striking deals to pay.

Now, Google is under fire for funding News Corp.

Was Facebook right to ban news content in Australia?

Face-off

Definitely not. Facebook’s role in providing access to the news makes it like a public service. Cutting off Australians from the news was wrong. Facebook makes money from people using its platform to read the news. Media organisations worldwide are struggling.

Absolutely. This was a Catch-22 for Facebook – condemned if they paid News Corp, condemned if they blocked Australians from the news. Facebook made the right decision. Sharing links freely is one of the principles of the internet. Giving in to a new form of tax would set a dangerous precedent.

You Decide

  1. Would the internet be a better place without big companies like Google or Facebook?

Activities

  1. In groups, think of a name and design a logo for your own new social media network. Then write a list of five rules you would have for businesses and people who want to use the site.

Some People Say...

“None of the most powerful tech companies answer to what’s best for people, only to what’s best for them.”

Tristan Harris (1985 – ), American computer scientist and ethicist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that more and more people today rely on social media sites such as Facebook to access news. One 2019 survey found that Facebook is now the third most commonly used news source in the UK, behind BBC One and ITV. In turn, news organisations are also becoming increasingly reliant on social media platforms to direct traffic to their sites. Globally, approximately 25% of all inbound visitors to news sites come from social media.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds whether net neutrality – the basic principle that all web traffic should be treated equally and flow freely without taxes – should be the most important regulation governing the internet. World wide web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee warned the Australian senate last year that, despite his concerns about Facebook, forcing companies to pay to spread certain links would make the internet unworkable. But others say regulating tech giants is more important.

Word Watch

Apoplectic
Very angry. The word originally comes from the Greek term apoplektikos, which meant “struck down by a stroke”.
news content
Facebook has blocked Australian news sites from posting their content on Facebook and Australian users from viewing or sharing news from any source.
Google
Unlike Facebook, news is at the heart of Google’s mission to “organise the world’s information”.
News Corp
News Corp owned News of the World, the paper at the centre of the 2011 UK phone hacking scandal.
Catch-22
An inescapable dilemma. The phrase comes from the title of Joseph Heller’s satirical novel Catch-22, in which a soldier cannot be discharged from war unless he is declared insane. At the same time wanting to be discharged proves his sanity.
Precedent
An earlier event or action regarded as an example or guide to be considered in similar future circumstances.

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