We’ve all been f@cked by Facebook. Activate Plan B [Op-Ed]

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Australians woke up Thursday to some bewildering news: there would be no more news, on Facebook at least.

Here we are, in a pandemic, picking our jaws off the floor as our favourite news sources play a disappearing act from our Facebook apps.

How did we get here? In the corridors of Canberra, Australia’s government drew up legislation to make tech companies pay for news content. That much we know. It’s a brazen call, but Google paid up.

Facebook took an entirely different approach.

Curiously, the media bargaining proposals are not yet law, but that didn’t stop FB from pressing the nuclear button.

Its reaction is the equivalent of the high-school bully being so angry at being handed homework, he goes and eats his classmates’ lunches before burning all their bags.

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What have we learned from all this?

First up, we should have seen it coming. It’s no secret, Facebook has been anything but the model citizen, the friendly town crier and matchmaker.

Mark Zuckerberg’s giant social platform had become so big, so powerful, so unwieldy. So unregulated. With more than 2.7 billion active users worldwide, FB could influence elections and be used as the wedge to divide countries.

Zuckerberg himself was hauled up to give testimony at a senate hearing in 2018. For the record, he gave a ropey performance.

History does repeat, and too often we don’t learn from it. MySpace, for a time, was a place every artist invested their time and energy. When MySpace pivoted into a dud, millions of music makers were lost in space (all their uploaded music was lost too, in a botched data transfer).

News organisations across the board have grown reliant on Facebook and the ease with which its platform allows them to break and share news with followers and music fans. That service does not come for free. How many contracts have FB breached with their news blackout? No doubt FB’s legal team thought of all that.

When ABC Managing Director David Anderson told his network’s Breakfast team on Friday that “the world was watching,” he was almost correct.

Actually, the world has other things on its mind. The northern hemisphere is either frozen, or fighting a plague, or trying to figure out how Britain fits into Europe post-Brexit.

facebook blue ipad all in a row on

Australia is a handy test market for American tech companies. We speak English, we’re connected with devices and we’re a long way from the rest of the world.

And because of that, Google Play Music (now YouTube Music) and iHeartRadio both arrived in Australia before Europe, marking the respective services’ first expansion outside the United States.

The idea is, if you try and fail in Australia, you just might get away with it.

The world was watching FB’s Australian news ban, yesterday.

So what next? All this will take a toll on news organisations, already beaten and bashed by Google and Facebook vacuuming the lion’s share of online advertising, something the proposed media bargaining code  intended to rectify.

Jobs will be lost. Never mind that ten million Australians use FB’s platform each day for public health updates, information on bushfires, storms.

The social giant’s response reeks of the worst of corporate America. If greed was good in the ‘80s, today the big boys want to know “if you’re with us, or against us.”

Apparently, Australia was against them.

All along, Facebook said it couldn’t stop the distribution of fake news on its platform, or the dissemination of flat-earth, anti-vaxxer nonsense, or pull its live stream of the Christchurch mosque shootings for a full 17 minutes. But its algorithms can distinguish between the news that is Lad Bible and the Facebook page for your fave band.

The Brag Media, TIO’s parent company, is lucky to not rely too much on Facebook for traffic. Last year it launched The Brag Observer, its newsletter network which has 300,000+ subscribers.

It’s time to activate Plan B, and C and D. For bands and their teams, invest in your mailing lists. For news, turn to Twitter. And don’t forget the past.

Because we’ve all been well and truly [email protected] by Facebook.

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