Facebook Australia News Ban Fiasco Missed The Mark

The Facebook Australia news ban highlights fundamental and far-reaching misunderstandings and misconceptions when it comes to the often murky world of online media. 

Facebook and the Australian government have come to an agreement to restore news sharing, albeit a compromised one.

The whole episode has certainly grabbed the headlines, and no doubt both sides will claim a victory of sorts.

The reality is that the agreement has failed to fix some profound issues -- not just with Facebook and Google, but with the internet itself. As a result, normal behaviors are sure to return.

The reason this standoff will not last is because it doesn't address some wider, fundamental issues at play. The first is that no one has actually defined Facebook and Google.

They are not a social platform and search engine, respectively; they are advertising platforms. And as advertising ecosystems, they are not open but closed.

This definition would go a long way in allowing governments to employ effective legislation and regulation.



The second major issue is the duopoly that is enjoyed by Facebook and Google. In many markets, almost all the world's information is funneled through two tech companies that happen to be advertising platforms. This is a very worrisome position.

Which brings us to the third problem -- governments’ inability to understand the internet, keep pace and adapt frameworks to ensure effective legislation.

Governments and regulators must do better in this area. If they don't, then the imbalance will always be there.

Are we likely to see this brinkmanship in the UK? The short answer is no. The simple reason is that the tech giants will -- and indeed have -- begun to pen deals directly with publishers, like Google's News Showcase and Facebook's recent agreements with news brands in the UK.

So why has Facebook been so brutish in Australia? To put it bluntly, it is attributable to market prioritization, also known as revenue. Australia is not a big deal for them. Why will they not do it in the UK? Again, market prioritization/revenue and to avoid regulation. I think the latter is perhaps the biggest concern for them. The moves that both Google and Facebook have made would likely appease the UK government and prevent a heavy-handed approach.

Of course, the UK government would need to be seen to be taking some sort of control -- and as such, light-touch regulation will come into effect. This would surely be somewhat hash and almost certainly completely ineffective.

So with agreements made, we have missed a huge opportunity to try and fix things.

The digital ecosystem is dysfunctional, with big tech companies being judge, jury and executioner without interference, and legislators simply not getting it and therefore not managing.

Sadly, we are all too familiar with the consequences -- election fraud, incitement to riot, fake news, etc.

We cannot continue with a digital environment that is akin to the Wild West. However, the solution does not lie in draconian rule set by governments and tech giants behaving like petulant children. No one will come out well.

The solution, of course, is collaboration. Will that happen? Not a chance!

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