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The End of Facebook?

In case you missed it overnight, Facebook has blocked Australian users from sharing and viewing news content on its social media platform, escalating a dispute with the government over paying media publishers for content. This can be looked on as a test case for the rest of the world in how Big Tech (as the large companies have become collectively known) can dominate governments in a world becoming more and more reliant on their properties.


The fact that protection of publishers’ rights has reached a stage where an entire country is having to set law is particularly worrying. The Australian Media Bargaining Code will be introduced by the government and their Competition Regulator to address a power imbalance between the social media giants and publishers when negotiating payment for news content used on the social media platforms.


If Facebook win this war of words, basically the world has surrendered the control of information to platforms where no one really knows the truth, and information, when supplied, can be controlled by those with little regard to consequences of ‘fake news’. By refusing to pay for the content from official news outlets, the vacuum created will need to be filled, and with the masses believing anything that appears on social media (or so it seems), the opportunity to manipulate public opinion is massive and dangerous. You only have to look as to how Trump’s use of social media caused chaos in the USA. Indeed, part of the new directive requires platforms to give media outlets notice when they change search algorithms in a way affecting the order in which content appears.


It makes me wonder why Facebook is so resistant to paying for a service from a supplier that basically gives people a reason to use them? Google have already seen the big picture, having decided to comply with the changes, in Facebooks case, what is the issue? Reduced profits? Reduced control? People need to move away from the seemingly popular misconception that these platforms are altruistic, when in effect they are simply ways of making money for shareholders in predominately American businesses.


And this has been shown in Facebook’s reaction to this ‘challenge’, blocking users from sharing and viewing news content. However, this has also had the effect of erasing many of Australia’s official health and disaster management alerts from news feeds and pages from charities and information providers being shut down. After universal condemnation, a lot of these outlets have been restored, but the ease with which Facebook ‘pressed to red button’ has illustrated both their power over such concerns, and their disregard for their users when profit is concerned.


The other main ‘protagonist’ in the Media Bargaining Code storm, Google, has backed down from a threat to withdraw its search engine from Australia if the laws go ahead, and has instead struck deals with some of the country’s major publishers, including a global deal with Murdock’s News Corp for an unnamed (but expected large!) sum.


The outcome from this dispute will undoubtedly tarnish the name of Facebook in Australia, and, probably, on a worldwide basis, and should lead to an understanding of how social media has basically become the dominant opinion former in the world. Control of such a powerful platform needs to be regulated, before it becomes a weapon to be used to manipulate public consciousness. Without fact-based news to rein it in it, Facebook will become little more than an outlet for extreme views and cute cat pictures. Maybe it’s time we should consider leaving Facebook and using alternate ways to connect, either online or via the supposedly dead printed media. Or simply talk to each other.

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