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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

Facebook and Google Threatening to Take Their Ball

It's an "I'm not playing with you anymore" tantrum on another level. Google and Facebook are taking their football with them, so Australia can't play anymore.

Many avid users of the internet would have seen notices from both Google and Facebook alike making threats around the way content will work in Australia on their respective platforms if the Government is to follow through on a mandatory Code of Conduct on News Media.

There has been a lot of propagandising on the issue, which has made it difficult for consumers to understand what is actually happening.

Technology is developing faster than our laws ever can. A foundation of our democratic society is to allow people to provide their feedback on all aspects of political decision-making. While this is an important process to ensure political power also rests in the hands of Australian residents, whether of voting eligibility or not, it creates a slow pathway between identifying an issue and rectifying and issue.

An inquiry by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) on the direction of the then Treasurer (current Prime Minister) Scott Morrison MP commenced in December 2017 into Digital Platforms.

During this consultation work, including public consultation, stakeholder meetings, a draft report with opportunity for public and stakeholder feedback and a final report with opportunity for public and stakeholder feedback, it was found that Digital Platforms such as Facebook and Google are using the content of Australian journalists for free.

In April of this year, the Australian Government instructed the ACCC to develop a mandatory code of conduct to rectify this issue. On July 31, 2020, the ACCC released this draft code for public consultation between then and August 28, 2020.

The draft code proposes that news media outlets have the opportunity to bargain with major digital platforms for a fair price for their content. This initial stage of negotiation is proposed to last for three months before an independent arbitrator steps in and finalises an offer within 45 business days.

The code also ensures that media companies are aware of any changes to the algorithms of digital platforms 28 days ahead of time. This is to stop platforms such as Facebook and Google changing their algorithms to hide news articles from Australian media companies in order to avoid paying a fee. It has been argued by other content producers that this gives media companies an unfair advantage.

Additionally, the code requires digital media platforms to share information on how user data on behaviour around news media on their platforms is collected.

There are some fallacies that exist in this debate which I would like to address.

X: This only benefits Murdoch media.

This benefits all media organisations registered with the ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority).

X: Facebook and Google will have to change their algorithms which will affect me, the user.

There is no need for Facebook or Google to change their algorithms. This is an intimidation tactic.

X: Facebook will have to get rid of news on its platform in Australia.

The reason Facebook is threatening to get rid of news on its platform in Australia is that it doesn't want to have to pay for the content they have been taking off Australian journalists for free up until now. Facebook and Google both have plenty of money to pay for content created by Australian journalists.

X: Australian media will lose out from this Code.

Facebook and Google actually stand to lose the most. According to recent data, 52% of Australians access Facebook News. The question is then posed, how many of these users will stop using Facebook or interact with the site less for news?

X: The code puts the data of me, the user, at risk.

The privacy section of the code does not require digital platforms to share any more data than they already do. Instead, the code requires these digital platforms to provide information on how this data is collected. For news organisations to acquire more data than they currently do, they are able to negotiate with digital media platforms in accordance with Australian privacy laws - separate to this code.

X: Facebook and Google will have to hand over proprietary algorithms.

The code does not require Facebook and Google to hand over any source code. The code merely requires digital platforms to advise of any changes to the algorithms and how these might affect news organisations. This is to ensure these platforms do not make changes to the algorithm to purposely negatively impact Australian media companies.

As an independent blogger, I should really be on Facebook and Google's side in this debate as it will assist me in having my articles found ahead of large news corporations. However, I am aware that I try to keep journalistic integrity when writing articles about news-related topics. Not all independent bloggers choose to hold the same level of standards. Putting myself aside, I believe it is of utmost importance to ensure that we have a thriving media industry in Australia to continue reporting on current events in this country and around the world for consumption by Australians.

Last year, the EU tried imposing a similar law but to no avail. The Australian Government believes their move may not only protect Australian journalists but journalists around the world in setting a precedent for bargaining power between the digital platforms and media outlets.

I am sure Facebook and Google are threatening to change their operations in Australia purely as a scare tactic. It's only a matter of time before they decide they don't want to sit at home alone and bring their ball back to play with the other children.

For further information on this matter, I encourage everyone to visit the ACCC website. The ACCC website includes all the unbiased answers to any questions on this topic.


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