Why Are People Still Blaming Facebook For Australia’s Terrible News Linking Tax Law?
from the i-remain-confused dept
We’ve talked a fair bit about Australia’s ridiculous “News Bargaining Code,” which is literally nothing more than a tax on Facebook and Google for sending traffic to media organizations. Again, the law requires Facebook and Google (and just Facebook and Google) to pay media organizations for sending them web traffic. This is, of course, backwards to any sensible set up. Why should anyone have to pay for sending traffic to a website? Here, the answer appears to be, because Rupert Murdoch wants to get paid and is jealous of the success of Facebook and Google. The best summary of the whole thing comes from the Australian satirical video maker, The Juice Media:
The law does seem widely popular in Australia, mainly because the very same media that is getting paid because of this law spent years demonizing Facebook and Google, so many people think the law is good, even though it’s really just transferring money from some giant companies to other giant companies, and making sure that smaller media organizations get screwed in the process.
Anyway, as the law went into effect, Facebook broke out the nuclear option and blocked news sharing in Australia. This move made a lot of people angry, but I still don’t understand why. You don’t create a tax on things you want more of, you create a tax on things you want less of. If you tell a social media company that you are going to make them pay for sending any traffic to news stories, why is it surprising or bad that the company then says “ok, no more links to news stories?” If you don’t like that result, then maybe don’t pass such ridiculous laws?
Eventually, after a slight modification to the law, Facebook caved in anyway, re-enabled links to news stories, and started negotiating to pay money to a small number of big media organizations in Australia.
Anyway, the Wall Street Journal recently had an article revealing some internal Facebook documents from a whistleblower with the fairly provocative title: “Facebook Deliberately Caused Havoc in Australia to Influence New Law, Whistleblowers Say” and I went to read it, expecting some terrible smoking gun, about just how badly Facebook management screwed up — something the company has an uncanny knack for doing. And… I couldn’t really find anything.
Basically, the documents seem to show that when Facebook put in place that Australian news block, it ended up over-blocking sites that shouldn’t have been blocked, including government and charity sites. And, yes, that sounds bad, but again, the way the law was written was that if Facebook was allowing links to any news, it faced potentially massive fees it would be forced to pay up. So, when that’s how the law is structured, the only reasonable response is to over-block. It’s what any lawyer would recommend. It’s what I would recommend too.
The law is written in such a way that if you make a mistake and let news through you’re going to get into trouble, and as we’ve seen from other intermediary liability laws from around the globe, the perfectly natural response to any of this is to over-block. If you don’t, you face massive liability.
So I kept reading the WSJ piece, and waiting for the big reveal of what terrible thing that Facebook had done… and it appears to basically be… exactly what you’d expect. The company rushed to put this in place and over-blocked because they didn’t want to let anything get through that would cause them problems under the law.
Two hours later, the product manager for the team wrote in the internal logs: “Hey everyone—the [proposed Australian law] we are responding to is extremely broad, so guidance from the policy and legal team has been to be overinclusive and refine as we get more information.”
She then outlined the team’s plan to undo the improper blocking, including starting with “the most obvious cases” like government and healthcare pages, and the need to go to outside legal counsel for “more nuanced” cases.
And… yeah? I mean, of course you would want to be overly inclusive. If you weren’t then the whole reason for blocking news links goes away. Again, it seems like the real issue here is the law, and how broadly and stupidly it was written.
The WSJ piece does raise a point that Facebook already had a list of news orgs that it didn’t use, and at first that seemed like perhaps that was significant… until the very next paragraph when it becomes obvious why that list wasn’t used: because it clearly was not comprehensive, and the law applied to a much broader list of news sites:
Instead of using Facebook’s long-established database of existing news publishers, called News Page Index, the newly assembled team developed a crude algorithmic news classifier that ensured more than just news would be caught in the net, according to documents and the people familiar with the matter. “If 60% of [sic] more of a domain’s content shared on Facebook is classified as news, then the entire domain will be considered a news domain,” stated one internal document. The algorithm didn’t distinguish between pages of news producers and pages that shared news.
The Facebook documents in the complaints don’t explain why it didn’t use its News Page Index. A person familiar with the matter said that since news publishers had to opt in to the index, it wouldn’t have necessarily included every publisher.
Okay, so… no real scandal there. The article does make a big deal of the fact that Facebook blocked government websites, and even implies repeatedly that Facebook deliberately did so to put pressure on the government to change its policy… but then 55 (55!) paragraphs into the article, the reporters admit that the internal documents they saw shows that the government website blocking was a legitimate mistake.
On the first day of the action, Facebook executives discussed that the platform had blocked about 17,000 pages as news that shouldn’t have been, of which 2,400 were “high priority” pages such as government agencies and nonprofits that they were working to unblock first, according to emails viewed by the Journal.
I mean, maybe I’m just a small country blogger, but if you’re going to spend all this time hinting at a smoking gun and how the company “deliberately caused havoc… to influence [the] new law” then maybe you shouldn’t wait until paragraph 55 to say, well, actually, the thing we spent many previous paragraphs talking about being really awful, was a legitimate accident that the company spotted almost immediately and moved to fix?
Look, there are many, many reasons why Facebook is a terrible company doing terrible things, and there’s little reason to trust the company to do the right thing when the wrong thing always seems to be the company’s top choice. But this whole article seems bizarrely empty of any actual support of its central premise.
Yes, Facebook broadly blocked news links for a little while until the law was slightly adjusted, but under the law, letting any links to news through would have triggered a provision that effectively would have enabled the government to simply order Facebook to pay huge sums to media companies. It seems like a perfectly logical and reasonable step to respond to such a move by blocking news links, and even more so to block broadly to avoid accidentally tripping the wire to trigger the law. And, yes, the overly broad blocking did include some government websites, but as the article itself admits if you make it all the way down to paragraph 55, the company immediately recognized those issues and set to work on fixing them, though it wanted to proceed cautiously to avoid accidentally triggering the law.
It’s easy to hate on Facebook — again, the company does a lot of terrible things — but this seems like yet another case where the journalists really badly wanted to tell a story of something evil, but the actual documents didn’t support the story… so they just wrote it anyway.
Filed Under: australia, blocking links, google tax, link tax, news bargaining code
Companies: facebook, meta
Comments on “Why Are People Still Blaming Facebook For Australia’s Terrible News Linking Tax Law?”
‘Sort this massive pile of oranges between those completely ripe and those still partially green. You have five minutes and while sending a partially green orange to the fully ripe pile has no consequences failing to do so will have a hefty penalty.’
Five minutes later
‘How dare you send so many unripe oranges to the ripe pile, you must have been doing that on purpose!’
If they didn’t want overblocking they shouldn’t have made underblocking so penalizing, with incentives that one-sided the company would have been foolish to act in any other manner so if anyone is to blame all of it deserves to be laid at the feet of those that wrote and those that supported the law.
You'd never guess who owns the Wall St. J.
Wow, an anti-Facebook piece in the WSJ when Murdoch is lobbying to get legislation through Congress to get paid off in the U.S. It’s not like Murdoch owns the WSJ or anything. Oh wait . . . .
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This is a pretty common tactic of corporate news outlets. They tell the reader what to think for the first 90% of the story. And then, buried within the final 10% is the actual event that happened, but it probably isn’t all that interesting. This is why there’s a desire for a return to classic neutral viewpoint reporting.
Oh please enlighten us, when was there ever classic neutral viewpoint reporting?
Yes, there was a fairness doctrine that solely regulated over-the-air broadcast, but news print and magazines never had such requirements.
Neutrality in reporting doesn’t exist because you can’t separate bias from journalism. Someone must decide what to publish, what to distill out of the mass of available data, and what facts to check.
Besides that, in so-called neutral viewpoint reporting, both sides of an issue are given equal weight no matter how ridiculous one side may be. Covering a debate between a scientist and a Flat Earther over the shape of the Earth from “the view from nowhere” would make both parties seem credible when one party lacks all credibility on the matter.
Covering a debate between a scientist and a Flat Earther over the shape of the Earth from “the view from nowhere” would make both parties seem credible when one party lacks all credibility on the matter.
Let me guess, it ain’t the scientist. 🙂
Last I checked, the Daily Mail was arou d when the British Empire was a thing.
And Newspapers regularly printed mudslinging bullshit… even in the 1800s.
Biased writing has been a thing since at least Tacticus was alive. Even ancient China wasn’t free from bias, and they had the closest thing to objective reporting and analysis.
Maybe you should stick to being a NeoNazi.
“Last I checked, the Daily Mail was arou d when the British Empire was a thing.”
Last I checked, one of their most famous headlines was when they explicitly supported the British Fascist party prior to WWII… and nothing has changed editorially since then.
As with many things that right-wingers do, the idealised past that they wish would still be here never actually existed – and any benefits they imagine they’d get would only be because they happen to be part of the group that was unfairly discriminated towards.
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And now the Guardian and the ‘Independent’ have a similar reporting style except towards disabled people and trans people.
“classic neutral viewpoint reporting.”
What a weird way to spell “stop saying things I don’t agree with.”
Facebook removed a feature that people found useful. As it’s a centralized service, others can’t re-add the feature. What’s not understandable about this?
That Facebook was heavily incentivized to do this by a bad law doesn’t make the situation any better for the people affected, who by and large didn’t push for this law and probably weren’t aware of it.
The earlier story, linked from here, said “it’s a bit bizarre that the same people are mad about both Facebook’s decision to not give free money to Rupert and Google caving to do exactly that”. But the tweet quoted there was by “slpng_giants”, whereas the earlier one was by “davidcicilline”. I see nothing supporting the idea that “the same people” were mad, nor anyone saying anything akin to “it’s bad to pay Murdoch. And it’s bad not to pay Murdoch”.
That’s the whole point: People are mad at the symptom instead of the root cause, which is short-sighted as hell.
But I think you missed my point: it may be short-sighted and misguided, but it’s entirely understandable. Mike was suggesting otherwise—and, moreover, suggesting the anger itself, not just the misdirection thereof, was difficult to understand. That’s not the same point you’re making.
I don’t know how anyone who’s paid attention to politics for long could be surprised that people act irrationally, direct their anger to the wrong places, etc. I have a lot of trouble believing that Mike didn’t expect any anger at all.
I see it like the ‘Merikans who are blaming Biden for all of the ills in the country, it’s like they’ve forgotten he doesn’t write the laws & the other party is perfectly fine with killing their base to own the libs a bit more by stopping everything they possibly can.
They just like to assign the blame to whatever thing is trendy to blame at the moment and ignore reality.
But then this is the same shite country that wants to pass a law making sure religious schools can kick the gays out & they might get around to a law protecting teh gays… someday… about 4 days before the sun burns out.
Re: That's the nature of representative government, pal.
The thing about representative government is, you’ve (collectively) elected someone to represent you. If you fail to keep track of what they are doing, and fail to inform your representative of the things you (object to / approve of), or of the things your representative does, that is a failure on your part.
And yes, it’s work. Don’t imagine that it isn’t. That’s why so many people let it slide, then whine about it. Ultimately, if your representative behaves badly – including failing to actually represent their district, it is your responsibility to (attempt to) remove them from office in whatever fashion the law allows.
That’s fair, but rather sidesteps the concept of “understandability” that Mike complained about. Arguably, one who is part of a representative democracy should also have some understanding of how their peers behave.
Personally, when Facebook removes a popular feature, I expect people will get angry about it. I expect many of those people won’t have any idea of the policies behind it. I can say they’re doing democracy wrong, sure, but it would be pure delusion to assume everyone will suddenly act like “perfect” citizens. Particularly after watching their representatives enact a dumb law.
You’re forgetting that you’re not the only voter and not everybody has the time to do their research due to work and childcare commitments. :b
Apparently nowadays we just call something “Big” [noun] and that makes it definitely evil. Examples abound: Big Tech, Big Media, Big Copyright, etc.
FB, Twitter, Google, and the rest of the so-called Big-something are apparently a thing in search of a problem in search of a solution. Fortunately the governments of Europe and now Australia have found a solution to a problem that nobody thought existed in the world of Big-whatever.
TD has covered many times that TO FORCE SPEECH is a violation of that US right enshrined in the First Amendment. TD has also covered that TO RESTRICT SPEECH is also a violation. Finally, just to make it clear, TD has many times discussed how PRIOR RESTRAINT IS also a violation of that right.
OB DISC: Australia is not the US, so there’s your “Yeah, I know… we shouldn’t apply our norms, laws, mores, rules, ethics, etc. to other countries.”
And yet, if we get to call out eastern European countries for bombing, invading, killing, arresting, torturing OTHER eastern European countries… and if we get to call out other countries for doing the same… then as we are wont to do… we apply our standards (speaking as a USexican here) to others. Russia. Iran. Turkey. Saudi Arabia. And now… Australia.
FB, IG, Goog, T, et al: STOP DOING BUSINESS WITH THESE AHOLES. Just shut down your services and let the people democratically suggest to THEIR elected officials that THEY are disenfranchised courtesy of the MOMMY LAWS.
If “Big Media” or “Big Tech” or whatever did the same thing to Australia that is now being directed at Russia [for future readers: there is currently a campaign freezing trade with Russia to dissuade it from its attack on Ukraine… May 2022]
NO MORE FB in Australia.
NO MORE TWITTER in Australia.
NO MORE GOOGLE in Australia.
NO MORE INSTAGRAM in Australia.
Let’s see how long it takes for Australians to say “Wait a sec… the problem isn’t Google… or Facebook… or Instagram… it’s our STUPID ASS POLITICIANS!” and get this crap reversed and removed.
FYI I’ve visited Australia on more than one occasion, once to testify in a Federal District Court as an expert witness, and once to attend a friend’s wedding. The country is awesome, lovely, and the people are great. I don’t wish to deprive them of the joy of Big-Whatever. I want them to rise up and get their politicians to quit being a mommy/nanny state.
So … that’s what I want. That’s how I think it can be accomplished. It’s going to take some BIG BALLS on the part of Big-whatever to say “See ya” to Australia until this crap is dealt with. It started with Italy and France and now Aus. It won’t stop unless someone stands up.
The right to free speech demands it.
*And yet, if we get to call out eastern European countries for bombing, invading, killing, arresting, torturing OTHER eastern European countries… and if we get to call out other countries for doing the same… then as we are wont to do… we apply our standards (speaking as a USexican here) to others. Russia. Iran. Turkey. Saudi Arabia. And now… Australia.*
Because national copyright laws are totally synonymous with international standards on human rights. *rolls eyes* Asshole.
Re: Re: International Standards
I’m not sure where “international standards on human rights” are, seeing as various countries do what they like regardless. Saudi Arabia decapitates US writer. Iran kills US soldiers. Cuban US diplomats have microwaved brains. Russia puts female gay basketball player in prison without rights, trial, appeal, etc. And… we have “civil forfeiture”.
No need to sign your posts. The content speaks for itself.
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Because “international” = “global”, right? No need to anonymize your posts. The content speaks for itself, Facebook troll.
Just a note on Australian politics…
Terry Pratchett notably parodied them (The Last Continent), with a character’s comment “we just put [the politicians] in jail when they get elected. It saves time.”
Actual Australian here. Your American free speech laws don’t work in your own country all that well, so how dare you tell us how to do things?
We don’t want your advice, thanks. We have plenty of problems, and we don’t need to import more of them from your fucked up part of the world. You clean your own backyard before you lean over the fence and criticise us.
Compared to what?
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“Compared to what?”
Compared to your own lofty standards. Your laws allow fascism and disinformation to flourish, without robustly protecting anyone trying to counteract the flow of garbage. You loudly proclaim the answer to bad speech is more speech, and yet you can’t seem to stop yourselves from suppressing truth about your past, about science, about reality.
Really, the country which is currently threatening to prosecute teachers for teaching actual history or mentioning human sexuality, which punishes companies who don’t fall in line with the fascist agenda, which is enthusiastically electing actual criminals and delusional crazy people to public office because one side of your political system is broken and holding a firehose of lies and disgusting rhetoric on anyone fighting back, has no business lecturing other countries about how to regulate speech in their countries.
Your free speech laws have not supported democracy in your country – they’ve been allowed to kill it.
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Are you talking about the government suppressing speech, or others? Because US free speech principles approach those two issues very differently. Hopefully a lot of those problems you mentioned will be found unconstitutional.
Yep that is a serious problem.
You sound exactly like the toady of a third world dictator with that bullshit excuse making, not even trying to refute the criticism but instead acting as if any attempt to address any flaws is in itself a deep transgression. The obvious resemblance and the common variable (disdain for free speech) make quite the case on its own.
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Yeah, exactly. I didn’t try to refute the criticism, I invited you to explain it. But apparently you don’t care to. There are perfectly valid criticisms of US style freedom of expression, but yours was a bit lacking in substance. I thought an explanation of what you think is a better system might illuminate what you’re trying to communicate. But if you want to go with unfounded insults, you can do that instead.
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Whoops I thought this was replying to me.
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“acting as if any attempt to address any flaws is in itself a deep transgression”
You mean, acting as if the person delivering the lecture seems to be unaware that they are arguing from a deluded position. America’s laws don’t work even for America. Other countries do things differently – many worse, many better. I would rather live in Germany, where Nazi symbols can be banned, than the USA.
Right now, I’m not feeling remotely happy about anything America is doing when it comes to ‘freedom’ (wth the exception of its support for Ukraine – that’s good), so I really don’t want some arsehole who’s visited my country twice trying to tell us what to do.
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No need to anonymize your posts, Ehud Ghavron. The content speaks for itself.
That FB, needs to Generalize the word ‘NEWS’.
As anything that needs to be said is NEWS. Any company or Gov. is Producing NEWS. They Publish NEW information and soforth. NEW Data. its NEWS.
I would them ask those Concerns to MAKE a site on FB, and Distribute it themselves. WHICH is advertising, that can Pay FB.
Based on that headline and the nature of the WSJ’s article itself, Techdirt’s subheader should have read, “from the no-shit,-Sherlock dept“.
Because blaming another third party is far easier when all you want to do is not piss off Rupert Murdoch. And honestly, it’s not as though Facebook has traditionally gone out of its way to avoid scandals for stupid decisions.
Because people are that stupid, Mike.
And Murdoch is a master of manipulating stupid people. This is how he made the money he used to pay off various governments to do his bidding.
Once when I was in kindergarten Teacher said making fun of people’s names was childish. Of course at the time we were all children. I find it weird that otherwise grown-ass adults resort to that behavior.
My name is Gavron and I don’t ever post anonymously, not now, and not since 1986 when I first got on The Net.
Misspelling a name isn’t mockery when it’s an uncommon name, and therefore hard to spell. Suck it up, buttercup.
The blame lies fairly and squarely with the current gubmint kowtowing and spreading their cheeks when Murdoch whinged and complained to them about money. Being the good little lickspittles they are they fell all over themselves to help the Lord of Hell.