We know the story of David and Goliath. It is a story where David, the underdog wins. But is that story being rewritten here?
We have fallen in love with Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and others because they provide us a public forum for the personal, giving us a tangible sense of connection to our societies and the world at large. By being part of a “newsfeed”, there is a chance to shine the spotlight on our stories, without actually having to be on the news. From slowly inching its way into our lives, it has become bigger than all of us.
But, to shut down something of public importance nation-wide is a tactical mistake. It puts on the table issues of censorship and control. History, as they say, is written by victors. In 2019, quite ironically, Facebook agreed to pay some publishers for their content. With the amount of power that Facebook has over the online space, it looks like they get to control how stories are written and which story gets visibility. The unequal power dynamic between the social media site and the smaller news websites stand testament to this fact. On March 16, 2021, Facebook has agreed to pay News Corp. Australia (an international news agency that began in the US) for their local articles.
Smaller news publishers are stuck in a catch-22 scenario where they cannot monetise without visibility and they need to be financially afloat to even be visible. Facebook’s decision to circumvent the Australian code and to block news pages has created a mess which will get messier until the needs of the many are put above the needs of one capitalist organisation. It is created a kind of stale mate wherein Facebook’s power in gatekeeping public consumption remains unchecked.
However, let us not create a one-sided version of events. There is a possibility that, left unchecked, this code could potentially cost millions of dollars to be borne by the tech giants, with no control over where the money goes. It opens itself to questions of who gets paid and how much. Is the money truly going towards journalism or getting lost in the circus? These are questions that need to be asked and answered. But holding internet space hostage is probably not the right way to go. We will have to wait and see how this story progresses in the rest of the world.