Facebook’s declaration of war has claimed a lot of innocent victims
Facebook has declared war with the Australian government over legislation that could see the tech giant paying to share news links on its platforms but unfortunately there will be a lot of innocent victims.
In an overly aggressive move, Facebook decided to ban all news sites even before the negotiations with the Australian government had concluded. The negotiations were still going on.
No decisions had been made yet. The only things on the table were suggestions and proposals.
But Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg’s reaction was the equivalent of a baby throwing all the toys out of the cot after a tantrum or a kid taking their bat and ball and going home because they didn’t like the decision.
Now the unfortunate fallout of this nuclear reaction by Facebook is the innocent community centres, public service outlets independent websites (Tech Guide included) and even retailers have now been locked out as well.
There are companies who have invested big money on their social media platforms including Facebook (including us) and to see that all taken away in one fell swoop without any warning is nothing short of sickening.
The background of this whole argument is over the News Media Bargaining Code which was aimed at Google and Facebook in the hope of giving news sites a better deal from the tech giants who are not only making money from the sweat of journalists and media companies but also scooping up most of the digital ad dollars as well.
In 2020, Facebook profits soared above $32bn globally – up from $24bn in 2019 – with a decent chunk of that coming from Australia.
So Facebook would be in a position to have some kind of revenue share to feature news on its platforms if news sites were given the opportunity to work closely with them.
For us little guys, we don’t want any money from Google and Facebook, we just want the eyeballs from the links we share and those shared by our readers who want their friends on Facebook to learn about a relevant piece of news or a product review.
For the major news organisations that employ thousands of people, producing good journalism for print, TV, radio and the internet costs money and news outlets need revenue to continue.
Unlike a retailer who can sell a product or a tradie that can sell their services, a news outlet is a content creator and that news content takes time and money to produce to the standards Australians expect.
Without these reputable news sites on Facebook, the vacuum will be filled with crackpots, misinformation and conspiracy theories.
It’s not uncommon to see posts disguised as ads in the Facebook newsfeed that are either complete misinformation or a scam.
But because they’ve paid their money, they end up on the platform.
We’ve heard of several instances where people have tried to purchase products advertised on Facebook only to find the item is nothing like what was advertised or it was just an elaborate scam designed to harvest their money.
Why aren’t those posts banned?
But here’s how Facebook operates: Tech Guide reported another Facebook page that has stolen Tech Guide’s cover image – which included Tech Guide editor Stephen Fenech’s name and image – along with our logo.
This obviously fake page which left out some dots in the name to look like Tech Guide was even contacting our Facebook followers and targeting them in a competition scam.
We duly reported the site and the images for being fraudulent, fake, imitating us and harassment.
We expected swift action from Facebook.
The action was swift but to our amazement, Facebook told us the page wasn’t breaching any of its community standards and guidelines.
That’s how Facebook operates and when it comes to maintaining standards it’s only the standards that affect its bottom line that it cares about.
You can count on one hand the number of major news organisations that are on the front line and the basis for the news media bargaining code to exist in the first place.
Using Tech Guide as the example, we don’t want any money from Facebook to share our stories.
In fact, we’ve paid Facebook to boost certain posts to get to even more people outside their current algorithm that restricts our stories to around 6 per cent of our 13,000 plus followers.
And yet today, despite our spend in the past, we find our Tech Guide Facebook has been shuttered like so many others linked to independent and community websites.
Now we understand that Facebook is not Google – it’s not a search engine.
It’s a place where users to come to see what’s happening – like a virtual town square which includes social posts, advertising and shared links from various sites.
But Facebook still makes money when we share these links and even takes note of the people who like and share it as well.
How many times have you seen random links in your news feed on Facebook that was not shared by one of your friends of the pages you follow which just says – “something you might be interested in” or “Recommended for you”.
These are the posts that have been boosted – so a site pays money – for you to see it.
This scatter gun approach of banning all news sites – including our own independent website was the equivalent of breaking an egg with a sledgehammer – a huge over reaction and one that’s going to be hard to wind back without collateral damage.
And the damage I refer to is to Facebook’s reputation.
The platform has come off looking like a bully trying to boss its opponent around no matter the consequences to innocent bystanders.
There have been a lot of well-intentioned community Facebook pages which provide useful, and at times, lifesaving information – that have been silenced here as well.
Facebook even blocked access to government sites that offer support through the pandemic, mental health, emergency services and the Bureau of meteorology that have nothing to do with the media code.
Communication Minister Paul Fletcher says the decision by Facebook is “unfortunate”.
“What they’re effectively saying to Australians is you will not find content on our platform which comes from an organisation which employs professional journalists, which has editorial policies, which has fact checking processes,” Mr Fletcher said.
“They’re effectively saying you will not find information that meets those standards of accuracy on our site.
“That seems a very surprising position and one that is unlikely to be in the long term interest of their brand and of course the community impact of this is very significant.”
These heavy-handed actions by Facebook has even sparked a “deletefacebook movement on Twitter and other platforms which is slowly gaining traction.
Who knows where we go from here?
Hopefully Facebook wakes up to itself and realises they are two sides to every negotiation and that a result can only be reached when both sides agree.
Facebook holding a gun to our head and trying to get their own way is definitely not the way forward.