from the wait,-that's-possible?!? dept
I am still perplexed and confounded at how many people seem to think that Facebook is the one at fault for blocking links to news in Australia. Again, the law (that was about to be approved by the Australian Parliament despite Facebook warning them months ago that it would be forced to block news links if it went forward in its current form) would have been a disaster for the open web. And that’s even if you believe that Facebook itself has been a disaster for the open web. You can say that Facebook is the worst company in the world… and still recognize that this was the right move.
The law mandated that if Facebook had any links to news, then it had to negotiate a deal to pay certain news organizations (mainly Australia’s largest news organizations, where Rupert Murdoch is the dominant owner in a news industry that is one of the most consolidated in the world). If Facebook and Murdoch couldn’t reach an agreement, then they had to go to binding arbitration in which an arbitrator would simply tell Facebook how much it had to give Murdoch and other major media owners. Some have argued that this is not a tax, but… having the government step in to force a company to pay money for doing business is, by any normal definition, a tax. Though, this is actually worse than a tax, because it’s not putting the money into the hands of the government to be invested in public works. It’s going to one of the richest people in the world. For what? For failing to adapt to a changing market.
As we noted a few years ago, it’s truly stunning that Murdoch, who has spent much of his life going around the world preaching the gospel of “free market” and deregulation, completely changed his tune when he completely misunderstood the internet, and saw multiple internet investments disappear. So he turns around and demands that the companies who actually innovated simply have to give him money? That doesn’t sound like a free market. It sounds like welfare for a billionaire who’s upset he’s not even richer.
Even so, the most bizarre thing about last week’s story is how many Facebook haters who have insisted for years that Facebook “killed” the news business were absolutely apoplectic that Facebook was getting out of the news business entirely. You’d think they’d celebrate. Facebook can’t keep killing the journalism business if it’s not in that business any more.
The other bizarre reaction — which filled my Twitter feed to a point of ridiculousness for days — was the claim that Facebook was somehow “blocking important news” in Australia, including news about the pandemic and vaccines. Except… it wasn’t. No news was “blocked.” Just links to news on Facebook. All of these news organizations have websites. And many have apps. And they all still exist.
Indeed, the most amusing thing in all of this is that people in Australia are suddenly discovering that they don’t need Facebook for news. The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) saw its own news app shoot to the top of the Apple App Store charts in Australia. Ironically, the original draft of this stupid law was so biased towards Murdoch that it originally excluded ABC from getting any money, and was only added later, after some folks pointed out how blatantly corrupt it was to leave them out and just funnel more money to Murdoch. But it’s not just ABC that has benefited. In a Reuters story, News Corp’s executive chairman in Australia, Michael Miller, admitted that direct traffic to their websites was way up as referrals from Facebook disappeared:
?Definitely referral traffic was nonexistent … while at the same time direct traffic to our websites was up in double digits,? he told the inquiry.
That… seems like a good thing? But, of course, this was never actually about helping news organizations like this. It was always about the cash transfers. Because immediately after Miller admits that direct traffic to their websites is way up, he demands that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) “scrutinize Facebook’s move.”
I mean… what the fuck is going on here?
Rather than having Facebook mitigate your traffic, which is what you’ve been complaining about for years, the company has exited the space, leading to a massive jump in direct traffic. The reaction here shows pretty clearly that the problem is not Facebook. The problem is that News Corp. and other Australian news organizations are too lazy to actually do anything with all of this direct interest. Facebook just dumped a direct connection to users right in these news organizations’ laps — removing Facebook as a middleman — and the news organizations’ response is… to blame Facebook and try to get the Competition authority to go after them. For what? Helping them? This whole thing is so bizarre.
The same Reuters report notes that traffic from Facebook to Australian news sites plummeted after the ban, as you’d expect. But, again, isn’t that what all the Facebook haters wanted in the first place? To get Facebook out of the news intermediary business?
It seems the truth is pretty self-evident: this was all a greed play. They just want Facebook’s money, but they don’t want to actually do the work to earn it.