Neville Hobson

SDF 44: Facebook and the robber barons are at it again

Robber barons

Last week Facebook announced that it had decided to up the ante in its fracas with the Australian government and ban mainstream media news on its platform.

The move meant that all Facebook users – not just Australians – would not be able to share or view news on Australian news Pages on Facebook.

This move by Facebook was in response to the Australian government introducing a new law that would force Big Tech to pay media companies a fee to include their news in their users’ news feeds.

The story became the cause célèbre in episode 44 of the Small Data Forum podcast when Thomas, Sam and I gathered virtually via Zoom last Friday morning.

A lively discussion ensued as we debated the matter for much of our 45-minute episode. Sam captures it well in the episode show notes:

…it has once again surfaced the lie that Facebook (and others) have long claimed: that they are not publishers, but rather merely disseminators of information – and often misinformation, as Neville points out.

The social platforms’ business model is predicated on stickiness and keeping eyeballs glued to their means of distribution. In this case, Facebook has been taking and using news content and sharing it on its platform and encouraging and enabling its users to do the same. This makes it a parasite, very much in the mould of Bong Joon-Ho’s brilliant 2019 satire of the same name, making money from eyeballs glued to journalistic content created and paid for by news media for which it has paid nothing.

It’s true that the news media have largely failed to adapt to the digital age, and by failing to act until it’s far too late to protect their intellectual property, circulation, and online subscriptions, most will ultimately struggle to survive, with a few notable exceptions. The sheer scale of Facebook (2.74bn active, registered monthly users and rising) gives it unparalleled reach. News media didn’t see the future unfolding as Facebook knew it would all along, and by the time they needed their governments to wade in and try to turn back the clock, it was several years too late.

We had a great discussion; it’s a topic that, undoubtedly, we shall return to especially given the news today that Facebook reversed the ban after the Australian government agreed to make changes to the new law; and that Google did a deal with the government and will pay fees.

Other topics we covered in this episode include Facebook’s alleged role as a conduit for the January 6 insurrectionists at the US Capitol; Big Tech and taxes: do they pay enough (indeed, do they pay any? – it’s not a rhetorical question).

We conclude 44 with some life hacks centred around spending ten minutes in nature, perhaps emulating Thomas’ example by talking to robins and blue tits.

Listen to Episode 44:

Enjoy the show! If you have questions or comments, let us know: either leave a comment on the show notes, or send us a message.

Normal SDF service resumes next month month when we publish episode 45 on Monday March 22.

(The image at top appears in the Robber baron (industrialist) entry on Wikipedia, and is in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)

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