Talking Points

Facebook's Australia power play

The Australian government is working on a law that would require large internet platforms like Google and Facebook to pay local journalism publishers for their content. In response, Facebook announced Wednesday that it would block all Australians from posting any news content of any kind, and would block the entire world population from posting any news content from Australian sources. Facebook executive William Easton justified the decision in a blog post. The proposed law "misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content," he writes, and claims that Facebook provides Australian news publishers 5.1 billion free referrals.

The complaint is a crock. This is about money and power. Extensive and detailed reports from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission shows that as digital ads have grown to account for about half of all the advertising spending in the country, Google and Facebook have crushed the market — taking up about two-thirds of all digital ad spending. In the display ads submarket, Facebook has moved from 25 percent of the market in 2014 to 62 percent in 2019.

In other words, Facebook may provide some referral traffic to publishers, but its (and Google's) structural domination over the ad marketplace is strangling Australian journalism in exactly the same way as is happening in the United States. The Big Tech behemoths are eating up most of the ad money, and journalism outfits are left fighting over a steadily-smaller pile of scraps. Today Facebook is attempting to intimidate the Australian government away from doing anything about those fat profits (and potentially disrupting Facebook's dictatorial control over what news Australians get to see).

As I have written before, Facebook is a truly monstrous company — one that has fueled genocide and racist violence. Here's hoping the Australian government tells Facebook to go pound sand in the Simpson Desert, and some enterprising Aussie makes a Facebook competitor without the extremism.