This morning, the world’s biggest media-sharing platform decided to ban all Australian news publishers, without any notice—and without applying any degree of sophistication to how a news publisher is defined.
On a day where regions in Australia are experiencing flooding or extreme fire danger, Facebook has disappeared the Bureau of Meteorology—but not the climate change deniers whose evidence-ignorant actions prevent meaningful, long-term policy commitments in this area.
In the middle of a pandemic, they’ve axed departments of health, and non-government community health and social services organisations, but not the anti-vaxxers whose wilful misinformation is costing lives all over the world.
During the most debilitating cultural disruption most of us have ever experienced, they’ve wiped the national public broadcaster and countless arts and cultural organisations, but not the extremist hate-preaching groups who’ve proliferated in this time.
The West Australian’s State Political Editor, Peter Law, pointed out that Facebook have blocked Australians from accessing all news content around the world, not just Australian news.
They’ve even blocked their own page, as consumer advocacy group CHOICE’s Jonathan Brown pointed out, perhaps to prevent Facebook users from expressing their response.
Importantly, all of this content has not actually been removed, but blocked in Australia only; my Twitter feed is full of VPN screencaps assuring organisations that their important work has not been not lost.
So why is critical information and community organising being held for ransom?
It’s no coincidence to Facebook’s actions that legislation is before Parliament this week to require Google and Facebook to pay Australian news publishers for their work.
It’s no coincidence that Google has been making deals all week directly with news publishers to secure this work.
And it’s no coincidence that Paul Fletcher, the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, is due to appear on Q&A tonight, where we and Mark Zuckerberg will hear him publicly respond. Minister Fletcher has already made it clear this morning that Facebook has damaged their reputation and undermined Australians’ trust.
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance have also expressed strong concerns.
Josh Frydenberg revealed on Twitter this morning that this has already precipitated a meeting with Zuckerberg today: a ‘constructive discussion’ where ‘we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward’.
A timely move, because, as ABC business reporter David Taylor outlined in a video explainer this morning, this action is likely a Zuckerberg decision and not a Facebook one. Paraphrasing Mark Pesce, Honorary Associate in the Digital Cultures Program at the University of Sydney, Taylor said that this is a Zuckerberg move designed ‘to show Australia what it’s like to be in a war with him’.
As the editor of this masthead tweeted at 9:47am, ‘they never cared. they just want to shape your behaviour for profit’.
Think about that. They just want to shape our behaviour for profit.
We’ve learned years ago how Facebook manipulated their algorithms to exploit certain feelings without our consent.
We’ve seen the refusal to ban dangerous disinformation, and even the active auto-generation of such content, that demonstrably leads to public health disaster or violence.
Horrifically, we’ve even seen murder live streamed because of Facebook’s lack of internal controls.
So what should community organisations do? What are the options, when your organisation has become so accustomed to Facebook’s many free functions?
It’s time to go back to the basics. Not the online basics, that’s step two; step one is the basics of civic ethics.
All non-profit organisations exist to advance the public good.
Think about an organisation you’re part of, or passionate about. What are its values? What are your values? What are you actively supporting? What are you passively condoning? What economies are you participating in? If something is free, don’t you know you’re the product?
Ok, so step one may take longer than today… but oh my wordy lordy, make a start, please make a start. And then it’s over to step two. (Yes you can cheat and do both at once.)
Twitter, Tik Tok, TryBooking, Survey Monkey, LinkedIn… Just as we do our best to diversify income streams and not put all our eggs into the one basket, so too should a little risk management be applied across our community work.
Communications consultant Jacqui Bonner says she advises clients to take ‘a holistic approach to marketing. You can’t rely on a single outlet, whether it’s PR or social media’, and also, that we shouldn’t underestimate the database and the enews.
General Manager of Limelight Magazine Cara Anderson agrees, highlighting the importance of multiple platforms for valuable policy insights.
Today is a good day for reflecting critically on our values: the ones we espouse, and the ones we’re advancing by default. Let’s take some useful action.
The gambit beneath Zuckerberg’s war is that we can’t live without him.
But you know what? Like every man with a career founded on gendered harassment, turns out we most certainly can.
Esther Anatolitis is a Melbourne-based writer who hadn’t quite got around to leaving Facebook until today, but she’ll still have a go at sharing this there before she does.