Facebook's Australian News Ban Did Demonstrate The Evil Of Zero Rating

from the a-massive-problem dept

People have been very angry at me for pointing out that Facebook's decision to ban links to news down under actually made sense -- even though Facebook has now cut a deal to return the links. The move was in response to an incredibly poorly thought out law to force Facebook and Google to pay giant news organizations, just because those news organizations couldn't figure out how to innovate online. One key point: I said that even if Facebook is the worst representative of the "open web," this move is the right one for the open web. That's because the alternative is much worse. Since the Australian law would force Google and Facebook to pay for the crime of linking to news, it would set up the incredibly anti-open web concept that you could be forced to pay to link.

Again, as we've already explained, this is idiotic. The links give websites free web traffic. Most news organizations, including those down in Australia, employ SEO and social media managers to try to get more links and more traffic from these websites because the links themselves are valuable. And thus, this entire bill is bizarre. It's saying that not only do you have to give us valuable traffic for free... you also have to pay us. I still can't think of any reasonable analog, the situation is so insane.

But -- some people argue back -- Facebook is no champion of the open web. Indeed. I've never argued otherwise. It's not. But this move was important to protect the open internet (and it's now disappointing that the company has caved). But, of course, this move also has demonstrated why Facebook has, historically, been a danger to the open web as well. And that's because when it blocked access to news links in Australia, it also did the same for many Pacific islands. And while we've mocked Australians who don't seem to realize they can just go to the websites of news organizations, for some of these Pacific islands, that's not actually the case. Because of Facebook's other attacks on the open web.

For years, we've pointed out the evil that is Facebook's "Free Basics" program. This is a form of "zero rating," in which Facebook would subsidize (or even make free) access in remote parts of the world... but only to Facebook. Facebook, of course, framed this as a way of "connecting the poor" and helping to get affordable internet access to places that didn't have it. But that's not true. It only gave them access to Facebook. As many people have pointed out over the years, if Facebook really wanted to subsidize internet access in these parts of the world, it should have have subsidized real access to the wider internet, not just Facebook.

So, now, these two things have collided in the South Pacific. Facebook's anti-open internet policies with zero rating, and Facebook's pro-open internet decision to not link if it requires payment. And those who bought into the false prophet of Free Basics, are now suffering:

Across the Pacific, thousands of people are on pre-paid data phone plans which include cheap access to Facebook. Those on limited incomes can get news through the social network, but cannot go to original source websites without using more data, and spending more money.

The region’s largest telco provider, Digicel, with a presence in Fiji, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, offers affordable mobile data plans with free or cheap access to Facebook.

In Australia, news from Pacific sites also appeared to be blocked, a significant impediment for diaspora communities and seasonal workers.

And this, in turn, is creating disinformation risks:

Articles reposted from Australian news sources are often used in the Pacific to rebut misinformation being spread on Facebook, Watson and Howarth said.

“One very popular page in PNG seems to attract more than its fair share of long-longs [an ill-informed person in pidgin] opposing vaccination as the Covid pandemic quietly spreads daily,” Howarth said.

It's not clear why Facebook cut off news to those Pacific islands in addition to Australia, but it might just be because they cut up the map by regions and lumped the south Pacific islands in with Australia. And, even if it wasn't that, since Facebook is blocking all links to news sources from Australia to the rest of the world, the Australian news sources that many of the small islands rely on are cut off for users on Facebook's zero rated plan.

So, yes, of course Facebook itself is no great friend of the open internet. And these two moves have combined to mess up news in the South Pacific. If Facebook actually wanted to support the open internet, it should keep banning news links where governments demand payments, but it should drop the silly "Facebook only" limitation of its zero rating program.

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Filed Under: free basics, islands, link tax, news tax, south pacific, zero rating
Companies: facebook


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  • identicon
    Pixelation, 23 Feb 2021 @ 7:17pm

    I think Facebook's resistance is token only. They can say they resisted. Now, they will be able to afford the payments going forward and their competition will be out of business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Strawb (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 4:36am

      Re:

      That doesn't make any sense. Why would they pay for something they don't have to while having no serious competitors?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        crade (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 6:26am

        Re: Re:

        I think it's more like they stood up and said "I'm Spartacus!" and looked around everyone else just muttered under their breath and a few threw tomatoes so they stepped back and said "nevermind, carry on"

        They were hoping for support and couldn't weather it alone with the general public already at their throats for other reasons.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Pixelation, 24 Feb 2021 @ 9:21am

        Re: Re:

        The cost for competitors will now go up, making it harder for them to compete. It will be pocket change for Facebook.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Freemon, 23 Feb 2021 @ 9:30pm

    Just wanted to stop in and say I use Brave Browser when I read articles here so you get absolutely no advertising income.

    Those who are anti democratic and deny the obvious election fraud in the USSA and other obvious cases of oligarchic rule can suck my balls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 23 Feb 2021 @ 9:35pm

      Re:

      Wut?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2021 @ 10:38pm

      Re:

      is that supposed to be USSR or USA ... I mean, not that I expect a straight answer...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 23 Feb 2021 @ 11:39pm

        Re: Re:

        I expect he's trying to be "clever" by combining the two. I suspect it's all they have after 81 million told the orange one that he was fired.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 23 Feb 2021 @ 11:37pm

      Re:

      "deny the obvious election fraud in the USSA "

      It's denied because you have no evidence that it exists. Please, provide the evidence that nobody has even attempted to provide and we can have a conversation. All you have to do is make sure that it contains verifiable facts and not depend on things like ignoring linear time.

      Do you have such a thing? If so, please let us see it. If not, why do you believe what has not been proven to you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 12:35am

      Re:

      He lost, get over it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Toom1275 (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 12:47am

      Re:

      What made you believe the rest of us care what a moronic sheep has been deluded into believing?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 1:37am

      Re:

      "...and deny the obvious election fraud in the USSA..."

      The one so "obvious" that in front of actual judges the republican accusers alleging that "election fraud" couldn't produce any evidence or indication that such fraud took place?

      I swear, the alt-rights addiction to fairytales grows stronger every year. At some point you people will have to realize that factual reality simply won't cave to your strident demands that what you wish for should be true.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 3:44am

      Re:

      Nothing says 'I'm fighting the oligarchs' quite like unquestioning support of a millionaire who obtained most of his wealth through inheritance and crime who used the presidency to fill his pockets and those of his unqualified children, and a party backed by and run for the benefit of billionaires.

      If any of these claims of election fraud were true, they wouldn't have lost case after case, and had their lawyers decline to actually repeat the allegations they made on TV in front of a judge because they knew they were false and they would suffer repercussions. The Trump campaign and republican party had countless opportunities to make their case, to present actual evidence before judges and the american people, they did not, they just screamed loud and hoped they'd be given the opportunity to go on fishing expiditions in states they lost in the hope they'll bve able to badger republicamn officials into throwing out the votes of hundreds of thousands of democrats like they attempted to do in Michigan.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Feb 2021 @ 10:09pm

    People have been very angry at me for pointing out that Facebook's decision to > ban links to news down under actually made sense --

    And they're angry because the story that Google has caved to France still hasn't been reported on here - albeit being quite relevant in this context. Or did they miss it?

    https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2021/01/google-agrees-to-pay-french-news-sites-to-send-them- traffic/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      crade (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 6:48am

      Re:

      The article you linked to actually claims they just lost lost the court battle they were actually fighting in france, but that's old news. Google also caved in australia, which did get mention.

      The opposition controls the news, and has no problem fighting dirty. Public opinion is against them; it's a losing battle.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Feb 2021 @ 8:44am

    it demonstrated the 'evil of the likes of Murdoch' more like!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 24 Feb 2021 @ 11:57am

    What IF?

    Lets ask.
    Newspaper and corps HAte doing things, that they Dont understand, Just as any corp would do.
    Its a write off to pay another company to do the THING, you should be able to do yourself, but dont know HOW.

    So you go out and HIRE a company that Knows a Job thats worth $0.10 he can charge $1 for. So the company goes out and setup Basic adverts and links, into the system, from google, amazon and FB. Its costs them PENNIES COMPARED to what the CORP is paying them.
    The CORP thinks they should not need to pay the Company, thats charging them.
    So they THINK they can go direct. and Jump into the court system to FORCE something to be done. WRONG.

    Using a Bazooka to do what a BB gun could do, is abit STUPID.
    And the only problem here is that the CORP seems to be paying someone to do a Simple job, and PAying a Big sum to them. BECAUSE, the corp didnt want to figure out on its own, that dealing with the internet Agencies is cheaper then the Corp TV channels.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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