With the advent of new technology and the exponential growth of the use of Google and Facebook by the world, the world has changed into something we could neither conceive nor dream of only 40-50 years back. Unbeknown to the guardians of democracy and decency and fairness in society, in the name of advancement and progress, they have been feeding into the greed of the few.
As a consequence, the world has now and badly reliant on two of the biggest tech houses in the world – Google and Facebook. The process has not only made these companies filthy rich in a short span of time, it has made such important encroachments into the way we live today, that we do not see the pernicious side effects of it all. We in fact do not see their inroads into our lives as encroachment. We, so intoxicated with tech reliance (do not read ‘use’) – rather totally inebriated – see this as ‘new lifestyle’. We are totally ‘controlled’ as they have created life around their product so cleverly that we cannot seem to find any way out of it.
By far the biggest loser in all this has been news media and public interest journalism which has had its advertising revenue eaten up by these two almost to a level that many businesses have already folded and the future of print journalism is almost dead. The irony is – that the two companies have been using the work done by news media – to line their pockets at the same time the two have been stealing their advertising, making the whole thing grossly unfair.
The government – through ACCC has proposed a Code of Conduct to reduce the imbalance and correct the situation swinging the balance though only a bit – away from the tech giants. Under the new code, which is designed to reward media houses for creating content, Google and Facebook will be required to negotiate with Australian media companies over payment for using their news content and notify them of algorithm changes.
And no wonder – the roaring giants are not happy. Both Facebook and Google are threatening us Australians in their own way.
While Google has already put out a statement threatening to make some of its services ‘paid’, Facebook decided to threaten through a post by Facebook Australia.
“Assuming this draft code becomes law, we will reluctantly stop allowing publishers and people in Australia from sharing local and international news on Facebook and Instagram,” Facebook Australia managing director Will Easton wrote in a post.
“We already invest millions of dollars in Australian news businesses and, during discussions over this legislation, we offered to invest millions more. We had also hoped to bring Facebook News to Australia, a feature on our platform exclusively for news, where we pay publishers for their content.”
Most commentators observing both Google and Facebook believe their threats are mere negotiating tactics. But the question remains, will they carry out their threats and what if they do?
“Google, at least, is already pushing users towards subscription-based services such as YouTube Premium and YouTube music. However, both YouTube and Facebook make so much from advertising that I suspect the greater threat will be that they simply stop reputable news articles appearing on their platforms in Australia (leaving Australians who have come to depend on such platforms for news in the dark)”, Dr Adam Fletcher, lecturer in the Graduate School of Business and Law RMIT told Bharat Times.
On Facebook’s threat Dr Fletcher believes although Facebook can technically ban Australian news on Australian Facebook accounts, but it would rather have the government soften up a bit.
“I have no doubt they could do it from a technical point of view, but I suspect they are coming out so strongly, so that they can negotiate a good deal with the Government and not set an expensive precedent for other jurisdictions to follow”, Dr Fletcher added.
In the meantime, like all well intentioned Australians, Dr Fletcher hopes the news media industry will find some inventive ways of generating revenue to survive – which is critical to Australian democracy’s health.
With or without the new law in place, the size of lost advertising revenue is colossal. Are there ways to regenerate at least part of lost revenue for the media?
Dr Fletcher sincerely hopes for some.
“I’m afraid alternative revenue streams for the media are outside my expertise, but I very much hope some can be found, because democracy cannot function without proper journalism to ensure transparency of all involved” he concluded.
Clearly the tech giants are using Australians as hostages in these negotiations. However, it seems no matter which way the power pendulum swings, Australians are likely to be worse off.