Facebook just handed its critics in Washington a lot more ammunition
From 2 x loser to Trump, Nancy Pelosi@firstname.lastname@example.org to aus.politics,alt.politics.media,sac.politics,alt.politics.republicans,rec.arts.tv on Sun Feb 21 23:40:50 2021
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said for years that governments should
set rules for the internet. Now his Washington critics say the company’s
news blackout in Australia proves he didn’t mean it.
The company blocked all news content for users in Australia this week in
the face of a proposed law that would force it to pay news publishers for displaying their content. The move provided instant fodder for those in
the U.S. who say Facebook is too big, too powerful and verging on
ungovernable — the very concerns that prompted federal and state
regulators to launch an antitrust suit against the company late last year.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) called the move “an unacceptable bullying tactic
that only underscores concerns with their market dominance.” Warner has
called for Facebook to take more responsibility for posts and ads on its 2.7-billion-member platform.
“It’s worrisome that large tech companies — which routinely tell
policymakers they acknowledge the need for regulation — continually resort
to using their large scale and dominance to undermine democratically
adopted laws,” Warner said in a statement.
That kind of reaction could be particularly damaging for Facebook as it
faces increasing scrutiny from lawmakers over both antitrust allegations
and how it handles user content. On Thursday, the House antitrust
subcommittee announced the latest step in its long-running investigations
into the tech industry — a series of hearings to consider new antitrust
laws. That same day, the House Energy and Commerce Committee announced it
is pulling in Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Twitter CEO Jack
Dorsey to testify next month about misinformation on their platforms.
“That the whims of Mark Zuckerberg are so consequential for an entire
country helps underscore the stakes in taking on Facebook and Google,
while that is still possible,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the advocacy group Revolving Door Project, which has been critical of Facebook’s
He argued that Australia’s move could provide momentum to the U.S. effort against the company.
“If a country with a population less than one tenth of ours can fight back against Facebook, why can't the USA?” Hauser asked.
The Australian law would require online platforms to pay fees to news publishers whenever their content appears on the tech companies’ sites,
either shared by users or by the news organizations themselves. The prices would be set either by negotiations between the companies or through an arbitration body.
Google, the other tech behemoth facing an ongoing federal antitrust suit
in the U.S., took a different approach to the Australian development. It signed a global agreement this week to pay News Corp. an undisclosed
amount for its content it will showcase in a new specialty news product.
The company said it has also signed partnerships with more than 500 news organizations globally and is in talks with others.
In response to Facebook’s Australia decision, House antitrust subcommittee Chair David Cicilline (D-R.I.) tweeted: “Facebook is not compatible with democracy. Threatening to bring an entire country to its knees to agree to Facebook’s terms is the ultimate admission of monopoly power.”
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment for this story.
While Zuckerberg has repeatedly called for “a more active role for
governments and regulators and updated rules for the internet” — a message
it spreads in an endless roster of online ads and sponsored content —
Facebook argues that the Australia case is unique.
“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between
our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Will
Easton, Facebook’s managing director for Australia and New Zealand, wrote
in a company blog post. Easton argued that publishers eagerly opt to share their journalism on Facebook to make use of the platform’s enormous reach around the world.
Facebook has returned to negotiations with the Australian government,
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Saturday.
Not even all Facebook’s Washington critics are convinced that Australia’s elected leaders are in the right, or that the law’s proponents are all
engaged in a noble quest.
“I don’t necessarily think the Australian approach is the best route,”
Warner said. Many observers say the law would mainly benefit News Corp.,
the Rupert Murdoch-founded behemoth, which has long been on what its CEO, Robert Thomson, has called a “quixotic quest” to bring Facebook and Google
Critics of the Australian law say paying for links violates one of the building blocks of the internet. Mike Masnick, editor of the widely read
site TechDirt, said Australia’s proposal “should concern basically anyone
who supports a free and open internet.”
As for Facebook’s support for government oversight, the company has
largely limited its calls for more regulation to four discrete areas that
it calls harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability
— none of which are at issue in Australia.
Still, people pressing for more checks on Facebook say the real worry is
what looks like an attempt by the $700-billion company to force a
Canadian minister Steven Guilbeault, whose portfolio includes tech, said Thursday that the company’s handling of the Australian situation was
“highly irresponsible.” Guilbeault added that legislation addressing what
he called “fair compensation” for news organizations, drawing in part on
the Australian bill proposal, will soon be introduced in that country.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen echoed the concerns
about Facebook’s power play, saying during remarks Friday at the Munich Security Conference that decisions “that have huge impacts on our
democracies” shouldn’t be left up to “computer programs without any human supervision or to boardrooms in Silicon Valley.” She added, “The latest decision by Facebook regarding Australia is just another proof for that.”
Back in the U.S., Judd Legum, another frequent Facebook critic and author
of the newsletter Popular Information, argued that the company is
employing a clear pressure tactic by pulling news in Australia even before
the bill has passed.
His take: “It’s an attempt to bully the Australian government into not
passing the law.”
Laurens Cerulus and Andy Blatchford contributed to this report.