Facebook did it. They went nuclear and, quite frankly, the world was stunned. Not only does Facebook’s move to block news from Australian users have serious implications for that country, it also means that people all around the world no longer get to share and read Australian news sources via Facebook.
The news industry is understandably unhappy, and with traffic drops of 20% or more
in Australia, you can understand why. The chair of the UK’s News Media Association said it was
“a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.”
And Australian politicians were furious. One said
Facebook was “behaving more like North Korea than an American company.”
Throw into the mix unchallenged misinformation
and Facebook’s accidental banning
of health departments, charities… and even its own pages, and it’s clear the company’s unilateral decision to pull news demonstrated just how much power it has over people’s information diet.
But the alternative — paying news organisations for the right to link to them — is not a healthy scenario. News organisations benefit from being linked to. The traffic drops they’ve suffered show just how much they gain from being on Facebook. Now they expect to be paid for it as well.
“[This ‘link tax’] is fundamentally against the principles of an open internet. The government saying that you can’t link to a news site unless you pay a tax should be seen as inherently problematic for a long list of reasons.”
Led by Rupert Murdoch (who is not exactly a fan of Facebook and Google), the Australian media orchestrated a shakedown of tech companies that could well be replicated around the world. Facebook is well within its rights to reject the whole premise.
That’s not to say the outcome is a good one. This is a grim situation where no-one wins, but if you’re looking for the real bad guy, Facebook isn’t it — not this time, at least.