Facebook vs Morrison: whoever wins, Australia loses
- The Australian prime minister is seeking global support after the Digital Lord Facebook banned Australian news from its platform
- Yet even if he succeeds in getting Facebook to back down, the real winner will not be public interest journalism but another media giant: News Corp
There are a few political reasons for this call for international action.
Firstly, every issue concerning the governance of the Digital Lords of the West would really need a global action. Their reach is global and their ruthless profit-driven data collection is also global. So the Australian case could provide a fantastic opportunity to finally address their uncontested monopoly of the digital sphere in the West.
But the Australian prime minister rushed to contact foreign leaders for another reason: this was a great chance for Australia to shine, to become the “leader” of a global fight against the giant.
The Climate Action Network’s 2020 Climate Change Performance Index ranked Australia the worst in the world on climate change policy, out of 57 countries. So, the call to arms is its best chance to regain the world’s trust.
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It is true that the power of the Digital Lords is too extreme, too global and that it needs to be curbed. But so too is the power of a giant media company that is strangling the Australian public sphere, making it impossible for local news to flourish and smaller publishers to thrive.
The Australian bargaining code does very little to address the issue of media concentration in Australia, because the new economic resources taken by the Lords will go mostly to the biggest media institutions.
So, you might wonder, what happens next?
Well, Facebook could decide to find a way to negotiate, and use the ban as a strategy to get a better deal with publishers, just like Google did, when it threatened to leave Australia for good.
Will the ban have a domino effect on other countries? Certainly not, we can just look at Facebook’s revenues to see why it is acting with such arrogance in Australia, a small country by population size. In 2019, Facebook made US$0.7 billion in 2019 in online advertising in Australia. In the US, in 2020, it made more than US$86 billion. The numbers alone tell us that Facebook will be more likely to accept deals with publishers if countries around the world join the battle.
Private deals between big media conglomerates and Digital Lords are never really a victory for the public who deserve public interest news. This is not what a media policy in the public interest should look like and I hope we still have time to act to reverse the global trend of privatisation of public policy.
Benedetta Brevini is a journalist, media activist and associate professor of political economy of communication at the University of Sydney