Facebook has been on the defensive for years: data protection scandals, antitrust lawsuits and the allegation of the massive spread of false information and hateful messages. The company apparently wanted to go on the offensive on Thursday.
In Australia, where a new law on remuneration for journalistic content is planned, Facebook blocked access to news nationwide within its platform. In Down Under, of all places, the internet giant is now threatened with a boomerang effect.
“Arrogant Power Game”
The Australian public largely condemned Facebook’s news blockade as an arrogant power game. The government wants to get the US company to pay traditional media houses when it taps content from their websites. The reaction made it very clear to many people what enormous and, above all, uncontrolled influence Facebook has on society, democracy and political debates.
Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has shown “how he can interrupt global access to news in the blink of an eye,” says Jennifer Grygiel, a social media expert and professor at Syracuse University in New York State. “No company should have such a huge impact on access to journalism.”
No sharing of news stories
Specifically, the blockade of Facebook means that users in Australia can no longer “share” links to news stories within the platform. Outside the country, no one can link articles from Australian media such as the Sydney Morning Herald.
On the part of the Internet company, it was said that the planned law ignored the realities of its own relationship with publishers who would use the social network to reach readers worldwide. Some technology and media experts have also criticized the Australian government’s initiative. The British computer scientist Timothy Berners-Lee, who is considered to be the inventor of the World Wide Web, warned in January before a committee of the Australian Senate that the precedent of the law, which would make the setting of links chargeable, could ultimately be the Internet in its previous Destroy form.
Act not yet in force
The law has not yet entered into force. Further negotiations between globally active Internet companies, the Australian government and the country’s major media companies – including, above all, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – could lead to changes in the final version.
But what can no longer be undone is the impression that Facebook leaves with its drastic and at the same time clumsy attempt to exert pressure. The operator of the world’s largest social network gave its users no advance warning. And when implementing the news blockade, the company apparently chose the mallet method: not only content from the media was blocked, but also digital offers from actors who have nothing to do with the current compensation dispute.
“As the law does not provide a clear guideline for defining news content, we have chosen a broad definition to refer to the law in the present draft,” said Facebook spokeswoman Mari Melguizo. The company will reopen any websites that have been accidentally blocked, she added.
Show of force from Facebook
The reaction from Facebook is not justified, even if there are points of criticism of the law – such as the fact that media giants like News Corp would benefit, says Elizabeth Renieris, head of the Notre Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Lab. The show of force by the Internet company will “wake up the regulatory authorities around the world”.
“In case it is not already clear: Facebook is incompatible with democracy,” tweeted US MP David Cicilline, who heads a subcommittee in the House of Representatives in Washington that calls for antitrust measures against the company. Trying to bring an entire country to its knees so that it could agree to its own terms was “the ultimate granting of monopoly power,” added the Democrat. His party announced on Thursday new measures to curb online platforms as well as adjustments to American antitrust law.
Small local newspapers also affected
Billions of people around the world use Facebook to get information – and not just for breaking news. In this way, many also learn about the work of charitable organizations or announcements by the authorities responsible for them. Because of the blockade, which affected the websites of small local newspapers and local radio stations as well as large publishers, many Australians may have missed important reports on the coronavirus pandemic or the development of forest fires on site.
“Playing this game in Australia will fill people’s feeds with misinformation,” said Tama Leaver, Internet and social media expert at Curtin University, Australia, in an interview with ABC Radio Perth on Wednesday.
More pleasant without messages?
The one who teaches at Cornell University in the United States
Communication scientist Drew Margolin, meanwhile, emphasizes that
some Facebook users may even find it pleasant
messages could no longer be displayed within the platform
to get. According to Margolin, Facebook would be wiser
been to give users in Australia the opportunity to register via
Click to decide against the display of news content.
If so many had done this, the Internet company would have
can use as an argument to the government and publishers
says the expert. “Now what if they say we are
ready to turn it on again and we say:
Please do not?”
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