A publicly funded social network run by the ABC has been proposed as one possible response if Facebook and Google limit services in Australia when the mandatory news code becomes law this year.
Google has been running a public campaign against the code and launched an international campaign targeting YouTube users when the government announced it would force the company to pay news publishers for content.
Google’s public campaign has included videos using a comedian in an attempt to simplify the issues.
Last time you heard from comedian Greta Lee Jackson, she was on a bus explaining why the draft media code’s system of arbitration is absurdly one-sided. Now she’s back to break it down further.
The proposal for a platform hosted by the ABC is among a raft of risk mitigation proposals in a report commissioned by the Centre for Responsible Technology, “Tech-Xit: Can Australia survive without Google and Facebook?”
The proposed platform would connect the community without harvesting data in the way Google and Facebook do, and could rely on the wide reach of the ABC across local, regional and national communities, as well as the trust the invested in the institution by the public.
“An ABC platform which engages the community, allows for a genuine exchange and influence on decision making, and applying principles of independent journalism and storytelling would provide real value to local communities starved of civic engagement,” the report says.
“[We should] develop viable alternatives to Google and Facebook, such as national online social platform hosted through the ABC. This could build on existing ABC digital capabilities and projects such as Australia Talks, the discontinued ABC Open and Triple J Unearthed.”
The government has been urged to urgently develop a stronger consumer data privacy act ahead of the likely removal of Facebook functions and the less likely scenario of Google withdrawing Google Search from the country, the report by the centre’s associate fellow Jordan Guiao says.
If Facebook refused to allow Australians to share news, the site would be flooded with misinformation and fake news, the report warns.
To prepare consumers for the impact of the removal of services provided by powerful foreign-owned technology companies, the government should invest heavily in Australian technology and startup companies, the report says.
“Despite known harms and rampant disinformation, Facebook’s stickiness and network effect create an environment that many users would find difficult to leave behind,” the report says. “A curtailing or removal of Facebook services would therefore likely affect Australians negatively as they lose connections and the vault of content they have invested in the platform. This reliance is a risk for Australians should Facebook follow through on removal of their services.”
The mandatory news code has been backed by all the major media companies including News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment and Guardian Australia, as a way to offset the damage caused by the loss of advertising revenue to Facebook and Google.
The report argues the arrival of the mandatory news code is a chance to push back against the profit or surveillance imperative of the tech giants and look for alternatives.
“Google and Facebook’s response to the ACCC mandatory news code has placed in stark relief our national over-reliance on them,” the director of the Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology, Peter Lewis, said.
“This analysis shows that two global corporations that play a dominant role in our civic and commercial institutions are prepared to threaten to withdraw those services to protect their own commercial self-interest.”
The Australian government’s attempt to curb the market dominance of Google and Facebook is one of several similar moves across the globe, including legal action in France, an antitrust suit against Google in the US and the possibility of another in China.
“Google and Facebook have become such a dominant part of our online experience that it’s hard to imagine the internet without the two tech giants,” the report says. “For many Australians, Google and Facebook are virtually synonymous with the internet.
The report also urges a forensic investigation into how tech companies such as Google have become all powerful in core public sectors including education, health and government administration.