Yesterday, when the news about the news and Facebook was making the rounds in Australia, I have been wondering about my position about the whole thing. After listening to the Stratechery Daily Update1 from Ben Thompson about it, I think my position on this has solidified.
I’m no fan of Facebook, but I can completely understand why they took the action they did, and I believe that it is in their right to do so. It could be argued that banning links and pages from government and NPO organisations was wide-reaching, and for that, I think it’s important to consider the motivation here. Was Facebook being cautious about their interpretation of the proposed law, which was written so poorly to suggest that anything related to the goings on in Australia fell under the code? Where they just being sloppy about which organisations were banned? Or were they going to such broad lengths to make a point and leverage their negotiation position? I don’t know: all three scenarios seem plausible.
But I think Ben Thompson is spot-on in making the point that there was a lack of political ground work prior to Facebook taking this action. Contrast that with Google, which since last month was warning about maybe pulling out of the Australian market if there was a chance that they would violate the code. I didn’t see anything like this from Facebook, and Ben Thompson made the point that this was a lot like the saga around WhatsApp and the privacy changes. Who knows? Maybe if they did this, they would have more sympathy in the eyes of the public.
It may sound like I’m taking Facebook side here. I won’t go so far as to say that, but living in a society with free enterprise I don’t see why they couldn’t do what they did. No one is preordained with a right to post on Facebook, and expect that they can extract rent for doing so. It was a mistake on part of the government and media organisations (hi, Mr. Murdoch) to think otherwise.
The whole mess is regrettable but I hope everyone comes out of this a little wiser. I think for me it just reinforces the importance of maintaining your own, independent position on the web. There might be subsequent words on this thought down the line.