Facebook has implemented a news sharing ban in Australia.
Facebook and other social media companies make their money by selling advertising. In that respect they are like the old-style media companies – newspapers, radio, television. The difference is that Facebook, Google etc don’t pay for the content that is essential to getting people engaged on the platform so that they can keep serving up ads.
Everyone who produces content that gets posted on Facebook is working for Facebook and not getting paid for it.
Personally I can live with that. But the news companies who have to pay the salaries and expenses of journalists and others who produce the news – well they are seeing their income drop as the advertising revenue they rely on flows more and more to Facebook etc.
Death of journalism
Potentially that means the death of professional journalism. And then, God help us when it comes to finding out what the people with power are up to, and being able to hold them accountable!
I know that the Morrison Govt marches to Rupert Murdoch’s tune and that is probably the reason the Australian government has introduced the legislation forcing Facebook etc to pay for news content posted on its platform. And the legislation probably could be improved.
But think of the big issues at stake here. It’s more than just Morrison, Murdoch and Zuckerberg.
Personally I’d like to see social media as a publicly owned service. It is too powerful to not be under democratic control. And the profits that are generated should be shared fairly with the people who produce the content that makes the platform engaging.
Propaganda on steroids
We have already seen massive evidence of the Facebook effect of spreading disinformation and undermining democracy in several countries.
It’s a propaganda machine on steroids, available for hire to anyone with the right money.
As Daniel Schmachtenberger said recently, nobody wakes up in the morning with an intention to spend 6 hours on Facebook. The fact that we do spend significant parts of our lives there is because it has detailed psychological profiles of each one of us based on our interactions over many thousands of hours. A.I. combined with big data means that Facebook’s algorithms can predict very accurately what we will respond to in order to keep us engaged. In many ways the algorithms know us better than we know ourselves.
For many people, Facebook (and to a lesser extent Google, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok) is their main interface with the world. It is how we keep up with our friends. It is also how we find out what is happening in the wider world through news stories.
There are very real dangers in allowing commercial companies to be the gatekeeper of this interface.
By banning news content and the sharing of news in Australia, Facebook is showing its power to censor what we see. Imagine what else it could ban, or what stories it could aggressively promote.
Somehow, this huge power needs to be brought under democratic control.