A robust and trustworthy media industry that offers a wide diversity of news and views and practices responsible journalism has long been considered the lifeblood of any society — making a whole gamut of information and user resources readily available to the public, as well as making the voices of communities heard and their issues resolved.
But that ecosystem is now under threat thanks to the outrageous and irresponsible dominance of Big Tech — where companies such as Google and Facebook act as arbiters to determine what information the public can see on digital platforms, and also devour a precious share of the digital ad revenue without compensating news publishers on whose content these networks thrive.
In Australia, this situation was further exacerbated on Thursday when dozens of charities, emergency services and weather data providers were shut down by Facebook as part of its sudden news blackout. Facebook’s unprecedented local ban on sharing news came in response to legislation in Australia that would force social media giants to pay publishers for content.
While Facebook has chosen the path of dramatic escalation, the spectre of the looming law in Australia seems to have pushed Google towards signing several licencing agreements with local media companies a month after threatening to shut down its search engine in the country — with at least two deals worth $47 million a year, according to reports.
While that might look like a lucrative sum, consider these numbers first: For every $100 of online advertising spend in Australia, $53 goes to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to everyone else. As dozens of media companies — some of them more than 100 years old — closed down in Australia due mainly to the increasing loss of advertising revenue to digital giants, Google made $4.3 billion in ad revenue in the country last year and Facebook made $700 million.
Once upon a time, social media companies brandished mottos such as “Don’t be evil” and pretended to be the social glue that holds communities together. Now that their hypocrisy has been exposed through actions such as above, it is clear that Big Tech is about anything but social.
The pandemic has further helped Big Tech thrive at the expense of local journalism — crippling the news industry and especially regional and smaller publishers worldwide. That’s why the proposed Australian law sets a welcome precedent for similar action by authorities around the world to help protect the media industry.
Sustained and coordinated global action against the monopolistic practices of Big Tech could not only provide a new revenue template for media companies, but also support quality journalism — without which no community or truly social network can sustain themselves.