March 1st, 2021
Facebook backs down, Google is a smooth operator, there's a whole Web out there, switching costs are the opposite of a Ulysses Pact, racism is thriving on TikTok, and so much more.
The tensions between online journalism, the social Web, and disinformation were played out last week. For the moment, online journalism won. Or, at least it seemed that way.
Let's start with an update. Last week (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/dashkite/-7h5X90ovPH1EvMMOByQEQ/week-in-review-feb-19-2021) , Australia took the reasonable step of insisting that news organizations be paid by Internet platforms that generate revenue from their content. Facebook responded by throwing a tantrum and blocking news sites in Australia. In response to a massive backlash, Facebook effectively caved (https://twitter.com/jason_kint/status/1364587857164312580) , and a slightly amended (https://twitter.com/JoshFrydenberg/status/1364713030710272000) version of the law passed.
Meanwhile, Google simply negotiated a deal with News Corp, while the Web Foundation pushed out pro-Google propaganda (https://twitter.com/webfoundation/status/1363730536267710466) . You get what you pay for (https://twitter.com/markhurst/status/1363848366057287684) , I guess. Google has been playing this game longer than Facebook, and it shows. It's easy to imagine the purpose of this law being subverted if it wasn't already, resulting in an ecosystem where independent journalists are effectively blocked from the social Web.
Of course, it doesn't help (https://twitter.com/daphnehk/status/1363847670792474629) to talk as though Facebook and Google are the Web, at which point it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We tend to forget the rest of the Web exists, so we pass laws that fail to account for it. We fail to anticipate change, both in terms of the players and the technology. We forget that those laws don't change things in the rest of the world, where Big Tech often brokers deals with governments or nationalized monopolies (https://rankingdigitalrights.org/index2020/spotlights/china-tech-giants) . We need a thriving and open Web because it's literally our only path forward out of a surveillance (https://digitalcontentnext.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/DCN-Google-Data-Collection-Paper.pdf) and disinformation (https://twitter.com/BostonJoan/status/1364398002123767811) dystopia. A path that almost certainly does not lead through Silicon Valley.
An open Web is a kind of Ulysses Pact (https://byline.dashkite.com/post/dashkite/-7h5X90ovPH1EvMMOByQEQ/week-in-review-feb-19-2021) because it reduces switching costs. You can't switch between Facebook and Reddit the way you can change email providers. If you could, Facebook would have to take that into account before doing something like shutting down access to news sites in Australia. Big Tech eagerly colonized the Web, introducing switching costs as they did so to protect their market share. We teach business students that switching costs are good because they keep customers from leaving. We don't teach them the potential for negative externalities that switching costs create. And so here we are.
(I wanted to link to something describing the open Web. But I didn't find anything compelling. Do you know of a helpful resource we can share that defines it? Let us know!)
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