25 Feb Does Big Tech have the right to censor?
It is ironic that Facebook’s decision to withdraw news content from its platform in Australia has made global news. The tech giant’s decision came after the Australian government proposed a new law that would require the site to pay publishers for their news stories. The proposed legislation is not limited to Facebook – other sites like Google are also impacted.
The Australian government’s argument is that traditional news publishers have been hit financially, as today everything is free to read on the internet. More people are using the internet to source news, generating money for sites like Facebook over conventional news outlets. Internet companies can link to these global news outlets – generating themselves revenues and making themselves more popular, at the expense of the news provider. The new law would supposedly make the battle between social sites and news outlets fairer, but Facebook was not so convinced.
Facebook’s decision received widespread criticism around the world, mainly for taking away public access to information which could be important, such as: government communication pages, community support groups, charities and news from emergency services. Angry commentators were perplexed that a social media site, with more than a billion monthly active users, would think banning trusted science and health news during a pandemic was a good idea.
Ultimately, social media sites want more and more control. Although Facebook has now retreated; reversing its decision – initially the company removed access to news information from Australia rather than pay for the news. This is not the first-time social media companies have exercised a level of censorship. Recently Donald Trump was indefinitely banned from Twitter after it was deemed he instigated the Capitol Building chaos. You may not agree with his political views, but Trump was an elected President when the ban took place, and many argued he has the right to use the platform; sparking a freedom of speech debate. This leads to an important question – should social media platforms hold this amount of power over society?
What does this mean for the future of social media?
Social media has been engrained in my generation, and it is as much part of my daily routine as brushing my teeth. This causes big corporations, with millions of users, to believe they are indestructible – as it is highly unlikely that everyone will stop using them. They have disproportionate power, because of their wide reach. And because people rely on these sites, they believe they can increasingly set the rules of how they operate. Although this occurred in Australia, it is applicable everywhere.
Social media is a platform based on sharing, and I believe users should have public access to accurate information. Although social media sites already have a problem with misinformation – seen with the COVID-19 vaccines and many other conspiracy theories shared online – removing traditional news content is not the answer.
For some people, social media is the first destination for news – but this does not mean that platforms get to decide that news content has a value. This battle is about money; greedy corporations want you to use their site unless it will cost them money. Big corporations hold a great amount of power in society, but some balance needs to take place between the old news sites that pay for the reporters that make the news and the social media sites that increasingly monetise it.
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