Media gone wild: Facebook gives an “F YOUR NEWS” to Australia (and SA’s Digital Tax)

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The future of receiving news has gone astray in Australia.

The Australian parliament is expected to pass a new Media Bargaining law that will call on online platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for displaying (and linking to) their content.

This comes after years of complaints by media companies that they are not fairly compensated for articles or content, generating ad revenue for giants such as Google and Facebook.

Google first threatened to pack their bags and leave the world down under and eventually secured deals with news companies. But Facebook took action, leaving Australians completely in the dark.

In the middle of the night they were cut off from access to vital information.

Local and international news outlets’ Facebook pages became unviewable. Posting a link to a news piece became impossible. Even emergency services were caught in the blackout leaving government pages linking to issues such as COVID-19 outbreaks and bushfires unreachable. Charities or pages about domestic violence and mental health also suffered under the immediate implementation of the law (some were restored a few hours later).

Facebook’s hardball response to block news came from a place of “we had no choice” as William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand said, “The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. 

It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

In a nutshell: Australian publishers can’t share or post to their Facebook pages, and Australian users can’t see posts from international publishers, or share or post news.

Surprise surprise, pages publishing misinformation or conspiracy theories were unaffected.

It is a situation of give and take. Supply and demand. One hand washes the other. But according to the Zuckerberg comraderies, the belief is that Facebook helps publishers more than publishers help it.

Will this leave Australians’ Vegemite sour and eventually encourage them to exit the world of Facebook, or will Facebook follow in Google’s footsteps and sit around the table of negotiation? With social distancing still in place it comes as no surprise that the time spent online – whether it is to read news or do shopping – is on the rise year after year.

Facebook claims that news doesn’t offer real value to its business, saying that only 5% of Australian users’ news feeds are made up of links to news. However, the Digital News Report from the University of Canberra reported that 52% of Australians get their news via social media.

Tech platforms across the world are receiving pressure to share their revenue with media companies.

Back in South Africa, our newspaper industry is on its last legs.

Covid-19 resulted in deceased publications and others going digital only. The fourth quarter of 2020 has shown a dramatic decline in circulation numbers, down by an average of 40% (with some tipping the scale at over 60%).

News has become freely available online more and more which, in combination with the dwindling numbers of print circulation, has led media outlets to start favour subscriptions.

Google and Facebook do business in South Africa without being taxed.

Government has hinted at the possible introduction of a digital tax for companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Facebook, which operate in a number of territories internationally and make up a substantial amount of lost revenue.

In October 2020, president Cyril Ramaphosa’s 4IR Commission published a report looking at the state of technology in South Africa, and possible tax changes the country could introduce to help it prepare for the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

And OnlyFans? Well, obviously the government is strapped for cash and going hard at it. VAT has been imposed on OnlyFans. For every purchase, a South African consumer makes, 15% is going into the taxman’s sexy pocket. And yes, sex work in South Africa is still criminalised and sex workers can’t contribute to pay income tax. OnlyFans is okay though.

Wally Horak, a Tax Executive with Bowman said, “The French tried to impose taxes on Google and Facebook and immediately the US retaliated with tariffs on their wine… You must satisfy the US, or there’ll be trade wars…”

Grab the popcorn. Put on Netflix on a device that doesn’t require a TV licence (for now) and let’s see how this drama unfolds.

Abroad and here.

(And to our friends down under, see you on Twitter then?)

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