So, Facebook decided to pull the plug on links from Australian news organizations in response to a suggested new law that will force Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for links to content.
Good. For. Them.
Facebook, I mean.
Now, I am by no means a Facebook fan, but I think there are so many inherent flaws in the arguments for paying for links that I jump to the other side of the table on this one.
First of all links and linking is an integral part of the web and a key component to the very infrastructure that supports perhaps the most impactful – for better and for worse – invention we have seen since WWII: The internet.
Links is such a crucial underpinning that they need to be free. Free to show that is. What then happens when you click the link is another matter, and that may be arbitraged at will based on the business model of the place, where the link is being clicked.
But just showing the link?
Second, what the proposed legislation really does is that it differentiates. It says that some links are worth money, the rest of them are not. It puts rules in place for determining when a link has value that warrants payment, and those rules are such that only a very few get to profit from it.
Who are those few? The biggest Australian news organizations. Who owns a lot of them? Yes, one Rupert Murdoch.
So Rupert Murdoch, whose record on effectively undermining democracy through the use of opinionated media in major countries is…I don’t even know where to begin, is a chief beneficiary. That alone should make you want to kick this particular piece of legislation to the curb.
Because let’s make no mistake about it: This legislation is not born out of concern for democracy. It is born out of intense lobbying by the news media associations, which is taking place every single day all over the world, and where they have so far happened to be most successful in moving the needle in Australia.
This is not about freedom of speech or protecting democracy. This is a Hail Mary pass for failed news executives who have over at least the past two decades failed miserably to meet the challenge posed by the emergence of the internet and innovate their products and business models to keep up with the times and changes in user behaviour and preferences.
Everybody and his uncle knows that when it comes to politics, motivation for action and legislation should not always be taken at face value. There is a reason why there is a term called ‘special interests’. Legislation becomes tainted, skewed and formed to fit individual special interests every day, and to a large extend that is fine. But let us at least call it what it is.
So following on from that, here is what the proposed Australian legislation is: It is a protection money-scheme with the “Pay us or else…” not explicitly stated but with no one in doubt as to who should be kept in a ‘friendly’ mood.
Even in this day and age politicians fear ending up on the front page.
Add to that that the core argument doesn’t really make logical sense:
You need to pay us for showing links that are effectively advertising driving users and traffic to our own properties. We want your dollars AND your traffic.
And you’re just going “WTF?!”
In fact it is so inexcusably stupid that Facebook is well within its right to just pull the plug on Australian news organizations. It’s a private company – not a public utility – and they are free to define their policies as they see fit within the law. And if the law works against them they are entirely free to just pull out.
I hope that they do. Australia is the perfect case: It is isolated to a corner of the world, the legislation benefits someone who very few people are true fans of, and the argument just doesn’t make sense.
So if the fight has to be taken, this is the time and place to take it.
And for the sheer stupidity of the underlying media argument and for the demonstration of yet another epic fail to innovate and look forward, I – in this one case – hope Facebook wins.
Media in general and Rupert Murdoch in particular certainly doesn’t deserve to.