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GS-II : Governance

OTT and Social media platforms-Should governments regulate online platforms?

  • 26 February, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

OTT and Social media platforms-Should governments regulate online platforms?


  • Australia’s new News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code will force platforms like Facebook and Google to pay local media outlets and publishers to link their content in news feeds or search results.

Does the Australian Code supress freedom of speech?

  • This is a link tax — that those who link must pay a fee.
  • Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the web, has testified to Australian legislators that this breaks the web.
  • But Mr. Murdoch (Media mogul) wins either way here. He owns 70% of the print news market in Australia. Who gets hurt most is anybody who wants to bubble up from the land of start-ups and create competition.
  • But in this case, even if you have decided that you should tax the platforms more, why should that money go to entitled publishers? Why not to education or healthcare or Internet access for the poor?
    • There are a lot of other places I can see it going than Mr. Murdoch in Australia or the hedge funds that control the largest media company in Canada and also in the U.S.
  • There’s absolutely no doubt that the digital platform inquiries that led to this news bargaining code came out of an unholy alliance between the current government and the major media groups in 2017, with Mr. Murdoch’s News Corp and Sky at the front.
  • To get Mr. Murdoch’s and [Chairman of Seven Network] Kerry Stokes’s blessing for a new law on media ownership, the government then made two commitments: to hold a public inquiry into the platforms, and another into public service broadcasters like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
  • The backing of the major media moguls badly tarnishes the effort and shows the extent to which the local media companies have been able to set the policy agenda in the country.

Hurdles faced by Australia

  • The Australian case tries to deal with two realities.
    • The first is that they have a highly concentrated Internet with Google, for example, accounting for 95% of search queries. Google and Facebook together take 61% of the country’s online advertising.
    • The proposed code would require Facebook and Google to open up their algorithmic black boxes, and their datasets that underpin the advertising market, to regulatory scrutiny.
    • It would also enable the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to compel Google and Facebook to carry certain news services for a yet-to-be specified fee.

European-Canadian model of human rights

  • European-Canadian international human rights standards for freedom of expression and opinion which is basically that we all have these rights, subject to limits established through the rule of law and which are compatible with a democratic society and overseen by an independent judiciary.
  • The rest of the world need not be held hostage to the American constitutional set-up for freedom of expression.

Dominance of the technology platforms

  • Internet itself has been hijacked by a small group of companies that are rewiring it.
  • They control audience data, which is the currency upon which this walled-garden version of the Internet works.
  • They also control advertising, which is the money underpinning the so-called free Internet.
    • This rewiring of the Internet was one to bring about the online advertising system with hyper-targeted ads.
    • But it’s been hijacked for disinformation operations, and to fan the flames of political polarisation, hate speech, misogynistic abuse, terrorist propaganda — all the stuff that give rise to the moral panic.

Journalism as a public good

  • One of the most downloaded apps in Australia now is the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s news app.
  • This is being touted as an example of how newspapers exploit the opportunity to end their dependence on news aggregators and social media.
  • Media properties have to understand that they are not in the business of making a product called content and then selling our audience to advertisers.
  • That’s what we did for a century and that’s what the platforms are doing now. Journalism is a service.
  • It has to fundamentally rethink its role in the public conversation.
  • We all have to imagine a different future to support a quality public conversation.
  • We have to realise that journalism has always been a public good in an economic sense.
  • Historically, the general public has never, ever paid the full freight of a general journalistic or news service.
  • It has always had to be subsidised, either by wealthy patrons, or by governments in democratic societies through the public service media system — like the CBC here in Canada, the BBC in the U.K. — or by advertising.
  • Now that the advertising subsidy is falling away from journalism, we have to recognise that advertising was never a virtuous means of subsidising the general availability of news.

Way ahead

  • When we have governments joining together to fight the Internet — when it’s Mr. Morrison talking to Mr. Modi and Mr. Trudeau, when it’s Merkel and Macron complaining about the fact that Twitter took Mr. Trump down — we see old institutions, old governments that are challenged by the Internet taking advantage of the moral panic and trying to stop a wind that I don’t think can be stopped.

Source: TH

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