A New Australian Law Is the Wrong Answer to Big Tech
Google and Facebook are too powerful, but monetization won’t solve the core problems
The Australian government is currently on track to pass a law that would require the largest online platforms to pay local media whenever they publish material from an article on their sites, or even link out to a news story. It’s the latest sign that the nation is willing to go to war with the platform behemoths in defense of its media industry, regardless of the cost.
The proposed regulation, called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, would require social media platforms to negotiate with local media in order to use their content. For instance, whenever Google publishes headlines and summaries on Google News, Google would have to pay a small sum to the newspapers or magazines listed.
Platforms would also have to pay whenever users interact with that content, or when they simply link to a news article.
There is merit in forcing powerful platforms like Google and Facebook to the negotiating table over their treatment of the media. The journalism industry has after all been ravaged by the two companies’ duopoly on digital advertising. But forcing any platform that generates more than $150,000 AUD in annual revenue and hosts links to a piece of news to pay up, as this proposal would, is deeply problematic. This would mean that as I write this piece, simply linking to an Australian news outlet for context could result in Medium, the tech platform that owns OneZero, being charged for the privilege. (The precise cost of a link remains unclear.)
The Australian government released a draft of the law in early 2020, which put Facebook and Google on the offensive — it set them scrambling to convince regulators that such a law would make their platforms unworkable in the country without significant changes. The legislation was finalized in December 2020, and is expected to be voted into law this year. Google has turned up its rhetoric against the law, and is threatening to turn off its search engine for…