It reeked of an overly-powerful, arrogant and bullying Mark Zuckerberg. Want to make us pay? No problem, we’ll just take it away.
The Australian government took a very brave step in trying to get tough on tech companies. Their proposed law seeks to address the imbalance identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) between news companies and Facebook, the latter receiving all the advertising revenue generated by posts from the former. In protest, Facebook stopped all news outlets from using its platform in Australia.
This attempt by Facebook to undermine the Australian government so blatantly showed us all the might and power they have amassed, and it is quite terrifying. Left unchecked, Facebook has been allowed to grow to such an extent where it can mould public opinion and direct the world’s attention however it pleases, with the ease of a cat toying with its dying prey.
Its aggressive proliferation across the world has given the digital platform economic strength and public influence of a nature only known to states. Much to Zuckerberg’s chagrin, he and his team in Silicon Valley may be catalysts of a social phenomenon, but they are not state actors in charge of millions of people. For too long they have been able to evade capture by any tax reforms and have been in denial of the social responsibility they have, flying closer and closer to immortality, untouchable to all.
Now, the Australian government and Facebook have come to an agreement to ensure that news companies (who have been struggling financially in comparison with Facebook) will be given their fair share of the advertising revenue they generate. Unlike Microsoft, who publicly supported the law, Facebook fought with the government, only choosing to cooperate at a later date. Why the sudden U-turn?
It seems that Zuckerberg may have flown too close to the sun. He sparked outrage across the world with his brash retaliation. State leaders caught a glimpse of what’s to come if they do nothing, and they didn’t like it. If Facebook can do it to Australia, why shouldn’t it be able to do it to us? Here’s why: Facebook is completely replaceable. It may be that it has become incredibly powerful, but what did their game of chicken with the Australian government show us? That they don’t have as much bargaining power as we may have imagined.
All of Facebook’s power and influence comes from the people that use it. Without us, they are nothing, for they rely on people – on us. If they remained stubborn as a mule with Australia, then Australians would find other news sources. This is the internet, after all. Information is never in shortage. Consequently, Facebook would lose power, money, and influence from their removal of news in Australia. And then what if other countries decided to do the same? If Facebook chose to remove services, they would just become weaker and weaker. The sooner this happens, the faster Facebook realises they have nowhere to run. We can just use Twitter, or Google, or we can just create other services.
It’s about time we removed immortality status from Big Tech companies. They are subject to laws just as the rest of us are, and no amount of bullying can change that. We should not fear a life without their services, should they choose to leverage them. We were fine before them, and we’d be fine without them. If anything, we should all be weaned off of Facebook.
Illustration by Samantha Fulton