Australia vs Facebook: The digital David vs Goliath that is not looking hopeful

On the 17th of February, the Australian Government put forward a new piece of legislation, that if put into law, would force tech giants – such as Facebook and Google – to pay money to the news media for the journalism being shared through their services. By the 22nd of February, after a controversial move by Facebook to ban all news for their Australian users, a compromise has been met between Facebook and the Australian Government. The ban was controversial, particularly for banning vital news, such as information on COVID-19. This goes to show the immense and uncanny power that tech giants possess, as they can control many people’s primary source for news and information.

However, other tech giants such as Google have agreed to sign contracts with the country’s news media, while Microsoft’s president Brad Smith even came out in support of the law, despite Microsoft’s search engine Bing being affected.

The compromise that the Australian Government and Facebook reached will allow the company to have control over news content on Facebook, so that they will not be automatically subject to forced negotiation. However, this also comes with Facebook acquiring the ability to choose which publishers to support. This of course raises the question of whether there will be increased support for left or right wing papers, and whether publishers will receive equal treatment.

This situation raises important questions, such as how can tech giants with immense power such as Facebook be regulated. How can Facebook’s power be reduced? And should the UK Government attempt to regulate tech giants too?

Firstly, companies such as FFacebook are multinational corporations (MNCs), meaning that they have parts of the company based across the world. For instance, despite being an American company with its main headquarters in California, Facebook also has headquarters in London. This is the main benefit of an MNC: its ability to move from country to country at will. This is particularly true for EU countries, where MNC’s only need to have a headquarters in a single member country to operate in all of them.

Because of their global presence, MNCs are harder to regulate, as they are not strictly bound to any nation’s laws. Besides this, Facebook’s power also radiates from their social media monopoly, as it is the parent company of Instagram and WhatsApp. This means that,if the UK Government tried to regulate Facebook, it would risk a ban like the one in Australia.

For regulation to be successful, it would have to be a cross-national effort with regulation from most – if not all – the countries that Facebook and other tech giants primarily operate in. For the UK to be added to the growing list of nations trying to keep better control of tech giants within their national borders, specific regulation should be put in place. As not only is the power of the tech giants is soon to be out of control, the Australian solution also helps to solve the issue of funding that has plagued journalism in the digital age.

Ultimately, regulating the tech giants is a difficult task that can only be fully achieved with compromises and a cross-national effort. Otherwise, regulation is destined to be watered down, as has been evidenced by the Australian case.

Cameron Thomas

Image source: Wikimedia Commons