Flat White

Why shouldn’t Facebook block news?

18 February 2021

11:12 AM

18 February 2021

11:12 AM

Facebook warned us in September that they would block news. Today they have followed through on their word and you can no longer read or share the news on Facebook. The ACCC wants to force both Facebook and Google to share a percentage of their profits with traditional news outlets, and so Facebook has responded to these new regulations in dramatic fashion. 

The government should never force one company to subsidise another—or in this case force two businesses to subsidise an industry. 

No one should be shocked Facebook has banned all new sources, both local and international, on Australian Facebook pages. Traditional media wants to use a kangaroo court arbitration system to make money off of the big kids on the block. Any business would struggle to thrive when, at any moment, the government could force them to hand over large portions of their profits to an industry in decline.

Instead of succumbing to the tall poppy syndrome, news outlets need to revamp their businesses models and make a profit. We all agree journalism provides value to society. Newspapers, radio, and television stations simply need to learn how to monetise that value in today’s world. 

This new mandatory code of conduct seeks to correct “bargaining power imbalances.” In reality, this is nothing less than Facebook and Google having a successful business model and out-competing news outlets in the race for advertising dollars.

News sites no longer provide as much value to advertisers as media platforms. More people scroll through Facebook and use Google on a daily basis than read the news. These sites utilise mountains of data that help businesses put their products in front of the specific people most likely to make a purchase.

Newspapers simply don’t have those resources, but there remains a high demand for reliable news. 

Facebook helps news outlets just like any other business to broadcast their product to millions. Of Australians, 52 per cent get their news from social media.

The ACCC’s regulations would stop millions from easily accessing news content. Hindering the public’s ability to access journalistic sources, would have problematic and compounding ramifications.

Many Australians wouldn’t seek out reliable news sources, but would instead get information second hand through their friends on Facebook. If Facebook were to take articles and other news sources off their site, Australians would become less knowledgeable about current events, less able to make informed voting decisions, and less engaged in issues affecting this country.

An informed public checks government power. 

In Australia, government overregulation makes running a business increasingly expensive and risky. The ACCC’s action on big tech is no exception.

The ACCC’s regulations gave Facebook a choice between eliminating news content on its platform altogether or letting corporate news outlets leach, seemingly unlimited sums, off of their profits. Few businesses, even a big shot like Facebook, could survive writing government-mandated blank checks.

The implementation of these poorly thought-through rules would be messy and complex. Beyond that, we should not accept the premise that the government should have the power to force one company to subsidise another. Once the government sets precedent we cannot know where it will end. The parliament of Australia must vote down the ACCC’s regulations.

Emilie Dye is the Director of Policy for the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Executive Director of the HR Nicholls Society. Find her on Twitter @emilie_dye.

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