Social media censorship has been a hot topic as of late. Politicians have been banned by social media platforms and whole websites being de-platformed by their hosting providers. The power that a select few internet companies possess has taken center stage in our social discourse.
Do these companies have too much unfettered power? Should they have the unilateral authority to de-platform individuals from their communities? Should they be more heavily regulated? Perhaps broken up?
I do not have the answer to these questions. And I think that is a good thing. Because these are big questions. And it should take the entirety of society to have that discussion. But a pre-requisite for that discussion to happen is for everyone to be informed. Unfortunately Facebook has chosen ignorance over information. At least in Australia.
Last week, Facebook rolled out a change that blocked all news sources from being posted on its platform, affecting over 25 million Australians. 40% of whom use Facebook as a source for news.
Facebook unleashes the nuclear option in Australia: The company just announced it will block Australian news publishers and Australian users of Facebook from posting, viewing or sharing any news content whatsoever— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) February 17, 2021
This censorship of news outlets on its platform is Facebook’s response to the News Media Bargaining Code put forward by the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) that would have required it to pay for news posted on its platform.
I won’t get into the merits of the proposed regulation. But Facebook’s reaction to it is irresponsible at best, and outright malicious at worst. It doesn’t take a genius to see that Facebook is using its dominance in the market to get what it wants, regardless of consequences. Behaving like a petulant child throwing a tantrum because they didn’t get their way.
But this behavior shouldn’t be surprising. In the entirety of its existence Facebook has been able to skirt responsibility for its actions. Rarely being held accountable by consumers, and even more rarely by regulators. Facebook behaves like it can do whatever it wants and get away with it. Remember Cambridge Analytica? The 50 million-user security breach? Or when they were found to be conducting psychological experiments on their users?
Facebook has an astonishing amount of staying-power. They have been able to go from scandal-to-scandal and still retain the position of being the dominant social media network in the world. Perhaps that is a testament to how effective their algorithm is in feeding people content they want to see. Or perhaps it is the sheer dominant-player advantage that they have accumulated over all these years.
For my money, I think it is more of the latter. Take a look at a list of every other major social media application. More often than not Facebook either bought it or made a serious attempt to.
- Twitter - 2008, attempted acquisition
- Instagram - 2012, purchased for USD 1 billion
- Snapchat - 2013, attempted acquisition
- WhatsApp - 2014, purchased for USD 19 billion
- LinkedIn - 2016, attempted acquisition.
- TikTok (formerly Musical.ly) - 2016, attempted acquisition
With a market valuation north of USD 700 billion and close to 70% of the global social media market share, Facebook has a lot of weight to throw around. And they do so with a scary-level of efficacy. Essentially buying up anything that could even remotely pose as a threat1. Or dedicating significant-resources towards cloning the value proposition of companies they couldn’t2.
Facebook is huge, powerful, but worse of all, fickle. If it can just decide – by itself – that its willing to cut off 25 million people from news sources on it’s platform and then just does it. That is genuinely scary.
Perhaps it is time to quite Facebook for good. But it is definitely time to hold them to account.