After a sizeable break between the last posting and this post, welcome to day 357 of shielding/self isolation.in our Covid house.
When we returned from Milan and started day one of what was then a 14 day isolation, we had no idea it would stretch to last to what is now approaching a year. During the intervening three hundred and fifty six days, we have left the house once in early September when social distancing allowed the celebration of my birthday. We also visited a shop in Stow one Sunday in August to buy a kitchen table and stopped for a socially distanced pub lunch at The Air Balloon on the way back. In total on those visits, we interacted with a total of six to eight people and then only from a significant distance for a brief period consistent with the social distancing regulations at the time. Those aside, we have been at home and not ventured out or met with anyone else for the last 357 days.
Thankfully, there has been plenty to get on with that has been made possible by internet connectivity and a bit of imagination. Family history projects have been revitalised, a virtual film club and preparation for the return of a dinner club. A catch up of reading or listening (audio books) and plenty more beside means I’m now wondering how I managed to fit in all the other things I did and a full time job.
Like many others, part of that activity has involved the use of social media and platforms such as Facebook though I’m increasingly of the view that although there is an undoubted positive in being contactable and in touch with family, there are also some pretty significant downsides.
The eagle eyed among you will have noticed that the number shown above is part of an Australian (Victoria) number plate and it’s in Australia that Facebook has chosen to launch its opening skermish in what I suspect will be a lengthy war for the platform’s survival, at least in its current form.
To understand the reasons for both sides going all handbags at dawn here is a shorthand summary of the two positions
Australia:: Intending to create a law under which any platform using Australian news sources in their posts by linking to their articles would be required to pay the source of the news for its use. Some of the Australian press (mostly but not exclusively the Murdoch press) has seen a dramatic reduction in advertising revenues heading to social media platforms that are hosting or ‘publishing’ their material and gaining advertising revenue from so doing.
Facebook: State to work in this manner fundamentally misunderstands the relationship with and nature of the internet. FB finds itself holding material it didn’t create or post but is now expected to pay because one or more of its members makes a post containing Australian news content? Facebook holds that the internet is by its nature free pointing out that any links in its posts take viewers back to the originating organisation who are entirely free to fleece you on their sites in the same way they do. (or words to that effect).
Now, I have to say so far on those summaries, I’m rather more with Facebook than with the print media. The current trend to vacuous, confrontational, simplistic, short, not-too wordy and sustainable media stories doesn’t lend itself to print media, quality journalism or the studied nuanced view. We have been on a race to the bottom for some time with broadsheet newpapers disappearing, local news virtually dead, reduced spend on reporting and increasing poor reporting standards. When was the last time you saw someone under 35 with a paper let alone a broadsheet? If you can’t retweet it, go viral with it or start a barny with it then it’s no use in today’s media world.
Against that backdrop the law in Australia appears to be an attempt to stop or reverse that decline Kanute-like with similar chances of success.
That said, Facebook have taken what seems to me to have been a relatively strong case and are currently undertaking the social media equivalent of a toddler screaming while kicking and punching the supermarket floor.
The reaction Facebook took to this threat of regulation was to prevent anyone in Australia seeing any news material emanating from Australia on Facebook.
However, what their knee-jerk reaction of taking their toys away and not playing any more did was much wider in its impact.
The blanket ban was insufficiently thought through or targetted. As well as ABC and Channel 9 news outlets, it also stopped all emergency messaging from being posted or read. So in the height of the fire season in Australia bush fire warnings were blocked. Similarly, in the midst of a global pandemic, covid updates disappeared and updates could not be made to related timelines.
The flyng doctor service lost some of its update channels and many third sector organisations that use Facebook as a means of communication found their updates were blocked and their media updates were switched off/
In fairness, Facebook has since recognised the error (in the same way a toddler may realise it’s gone too far when the television smashes on the lounge floor) and is restoring these examples of collateral damage in a war between a government and a large corporation.
In the long run, I think Facebook has put itself firmly in the cross-hairs of many governments, including potentially the US government. It the actions Facebook took had been undertaken by China or North Korea people would be referring to acts of state terrorism or warlike acts. Many observers (this one included) wonder how long a government will tolerate a corporate body with more power than most first world countries in terms of data held, personal information,.comms, reach and ability to disrupt governmental responses. I doubt it will be long before we see moves to break up Facebook and Google. In the medium term it may well be Facebook that gets unfriended.