The Australian authorities is getting down to develop a “bargaining code” to deal with energy imbalances between information media publishers and digital platforms corresponding to Facebook and Google. The creation of this code was beneficial final yr within the final report of the Digital Platforms Inquiry held by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC).
The ACCC is planning to publish a draft model of the code on the finish of July, however within the meantime it has requested events to contribute their views. Most submissions received’t be made public till the draft code is launched, however some stakeholders – including Facebook – have revealed their submissions themselves.
In Facebook’s submission, it units out to rebut the ACCC’s understanding of the digital media panorama.
Facebook argues it doesn’t actually need information publishers as a result of information content material is substitutable, and anyway the platform prioritises content material from household and buddies in folks’s information feeds.
In impact, Facebook is saying it does extra good than hurt to journalism and information media companies. The bargaining course of hinges on a dispute over the worth of stories content material and precisely what it contributes to the platform’s enterprise – which is at present unclear, significantly to these outdoors the tent.
Facebook’s strategy performs right into a narrative about how customers and advertisers migrated to the net within the early 21st century, collapsing the 150-year-old promoting mannequin of newspapers.
Historically, information was the “poor cousin” in direct industrial preparations between advertisers and newspapers (and later broadcasters). News evolved as byproduct of this exchange and so it stays, secondary to the primary sport, a form of subsidy and a “filler” to be utilized by these big digital machines of platform capitalism.
But information can also be acknowledged as a public good with broader societal advantages. Platforms are slowly realising they can’t keep away from regulation to reduce the harms that outcome from their very own market dominance.
Facebook’s chief govt Mark Zuckerberg has recognized the platform’s key problematic areas as “harmful content” (corresponding to hate speech and inappropriate imagery) and “election content” (corresponding to focused political advertising).
Facebook itself has moved from strongly opposing exterior regulatory interventions to guardedly accepting the thought, so long as the actual regulation fits them.
A strategic rebuttal
In its ACCC submission, Facebook argues it hasn’t contributed to the demise of stories companies by hoovering up promoting income. Instead, it factors out the rise of the web had already despatched information media into structural decline.
If anybody is accountable, in accordance with Facebook, it’s the information companies themselves who didn’t see the digital tsunami on the horizon.
Unsurprisingly, Facebook doesn’t point out its personal substantial market energy: with Google, the social media big carries the majority of internet marketing. As US media scholar Victor Pickard has noted, Facebook and Google between them acquire 85% of all development in digital promoting income, leaving little or no for information publishers.
Facebook’s tackle the information market
Facebook argues the ACCC, the information business and the remainder of us are all affected by “misconceptions”. In broad phrases these are: that Facebook is accountable for the market failure of stories; that it “steals” information content material and information publishers haven’t any management over its surfacing; and that there’s a worth imbalance between the platforms and information media companies which favours Facebook, and subsequently Facebook ought to compensate the companies at industrial charges.
However, Australians are more and more getting their information by way of social media newsfeeds. Research from the University of Canberra shows the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted this pattern, and Reuters has found older Australians too are more and more utilizing social media as a pathway to information.
Clearly, digital platforms and information media companies have a symbiotic relationship. But it’s removed from an equitable one: with a market capitalisation of US$671 billion, annual income of greater than US$70 billion, and round 1.73 billion customers each day, Facebook dwarfs any information media enterprise.
As social media platforms are rising extra essential in relation to accessing information, and information is a social good, the ACCC is looking for a extra sustainable, if not an aspirationally equitable relationship.
Facebook likes the thought of a brand new Australian Digital Media Council modelled on the Australia Press Council. It would arbitrate disputes between information media publishers and digital platforms.
But is that this an affordable comparability? Can information publishers be equated with particular person complainants who search cures?
Trying to dodge duty?
The central theme of Facebook’s submission is a refusal to acknowledge there’s a energy imbalance between information media companies and Facebook and Google that must be addressed.
Facebook questions the thought of even casting their relationship to the information media sector in that manner. Indeed, the corporate seems to be in denial concerning the easy reality famous by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s comment on the handing down of the Digital Platforms Inquiry report:
Make no mistake, these firms are among the many strongest and invaluable on this planet.
If nothing else, Facebook has demonstrated its well-oiled PR machine and the phalanx of individuals able to defend its surging income base. Its counter-arguments to the ACCC are proof of this, and in addition a willpower to take care of absolute algorithmic management over the information feed.
From Facebook’s perspective, a key impression of COVID-19 has been that folks at the moment are spending rising quantities of time on their platform.