Get that man a mustache to twirl - Denny Scott editorial
Last week Facebook, with Mark Zuckerberg at the helm, took its next step against real journalism by blocking out true news sites, along with some collateral damage that could really harm the people of Australia.
The digital face-off happened as a result of pending legislation that would force companies like Facebook or Google to pay dividends to news companies for information that is shared through them or found through searches.
While Google made efforts to get deals in place with major news organizations, Facebook decided to double down and recently completely blocked the accounts of major news sources, but also the government, charity and other organizations.
As a result, the social media company has made it difficult for the government, alongside other organizations, to keep people up-to-date in the middle of a global pandemic.
While there are plenty of people demonizing Facebook for what’s being done here, I don’t think that goes far enough. Sometimes we need to take what’s going on in cyberspace or on the internet and reframe it in terms of the real world to see exactly what people are doing.
Take cyberbullying, for example: whether it’s encouraging someone to kill themselves or holding incriminating photos over someone’s head, it’s treated ever so differently when it’s online than if it were happening in the middle of main street.
The Facebook company’s actions also need to be looked at through the lens of the real world. If it went out and prevented the government and news organizations from getting the word out, alongside charities and other organizations, there would be a word for it: terrorism.
Terrorism is defined primarily as violence or intimidation against civilians in the pursuit of political aims and that, to the letter, fits what Facebook is doing here.
No, the company isn’t using violence, but I’ve never seen a more blatant use of intimidation to try and coerce a change in a political standpoint.
I mean, if this were a comic book, Zuckerberg would be bald and twirling a mustache and shouting claims of victory at Superman or Ironman. He’s become a supervillain.
Unfortunately for us, there’s no super-powered person in red-and-blue tights or a weaponized red-and-gold armor suit to set matters straight. The only potential heroes around are our political leaders who we trust to do the right thing.
For the folks in Australia, that’s obviously happening: their leaders are doing their best to protect the media.
Real news is taking a hit in the modern era and, while you could point at actors like the “fake” news media sites tarnishing the overall reputation of hard-working journalists, as well as folks like Donald Trump drumming up anti-journalist rhetoric, the reality is that news media has had a tough row to hoe since people started getting their news through Facebook posts and Google searches.
For larger news organizations, websites can drive a lot of income through advertisements, resulting in an extra income source when traditional advertising like commercials for television news organizations and advertisements for print organizations are floundering.
For independent organizations like The Citizen, we use Facebook as a platform to connect with our readers and drive them to our website for accurate, fact-based information to try and make sure coffee-shop gossip and chat-room rumours don’t dictate the common zeitgeist.
By blocking organizations from using what has become a public utility for communication with the people of a country, Facebook has essentially stopped the newspaper from getting delivered, the radio from broadcasting, the television from covering news and the government itself from reaching out to its constituents.
On the one hand, this is an important lesson to all of us about relying on a privatized company like Facebook as a communications medium, but on the other hand that doesn’t excuse Facebook for how it’s essentially holding an entire country hostage so as not to diminish its already ridiculous bottom line.
Normally this kind of behaviour would be prevented by anti-monopoly rules, but it’s hard to say whether Facebook does or doesn’t have a monopoly. Before Facebook existed there wasn’t another company doing all of what Facebook does and no one was clamoring for monopoly rules to be implemented when it started doing away with its competition like MySpace. No one made any serious attempt to stop Facebook from purchasing its competitors like Instagram and, on top of that, Google, the only company that could ever really stand toe-to-toe with the social media giant, pulled the plug on its own efforts.
Does Facebook have a monopoly? Should it be handled as such by world governments? Well those are tough questions to answer because there wasn’t a space for Facebook until Facebook created its own.
Regardless, what Australia is facing now is what the rest of the world could face if they tried to hold Facebook responsible for the impact it has on every level of news organization from local newspapers to national broadcasters, and more than that, the impact Facebook has on society by having control over the news and presenting it without attribution or funding.