Facebook's aggressive threats reveal it cares more about its bottom line than fighting misinformation

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Reset Australia formerly operated under the name Responsible Technology Australia.

Facebook’s aggressive response to the federal government’s move to force big tech to pay for Australian news stories reveals just how out of touch big tech has become, says Responsible Technology Australia.

“Facebook threatening to pull reliable, factual content from Australians’ newsfeeds is a sign of just how out of control these platforms are,” said Chris Cooper, executive director of RTA.

“That Facebook would suggest blocking news in the middle of a pandemic, when accurate information is a key plank of the public health response really tells you all you need know about how much Zuckerberg cares about Australian society and cohesion.”

Facebook’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Media Bargaining Code follows a similarly aggressive approach from Google, which has spammed Australian Search and YouTube users with what the regulator described as “misinformation”.

“It is highly disturbing to hear Google and Facebook describe ‘news’ as nothing more than a line item on a balance sheet. Both platforms are dangerously casual about the prospect of operating platforms in which real news has been abandoned or de-prioritised, leaving misinformation to fill the void.

“The difference between information and misinformation and the value of the news to the functioning of democracy doesn’t seems to exercise Facebook or Google’s leaders. They see regulation as an inconvenient impost on their immediate profits - and the hostility of their response should tell Australian policymakers that regulation is needed.

“Democracies around the world are waking up to a whole host of concerns about how Google and Facebook operate, the negative effect they cause, and the outsize power they wield.

“These platforms create attention-optimising algorithms that lead to echo chambers, polarisation, and the disproportionate amplification of dangerous fringe voices. Of course this wasn’t their original intention, but it’s the reality now, and it’s time for public oversight to minimise the harms this causes.

“Facebook and Google seem content to reap the unprecedented monopoly profits of the new markets they have created, but obstinate and recalcitrant when it comes to accepting even a small sliver of the responsibility such power creates.

“But when you sit in charge of societal functions this significant, you simply cannot act like surly, unaccountable teenagers. When you’ve expanded this fast, you need to recognise regulation is part of growing up.”

RTA is an independent organisation that advocates for the ethical progression of technology for a safer, fairer, and more democratic Australia.