Publishers weigh approaches to balancing power with Big Tech

By L. Carol Christopher


Pleasant Hill, California, USA


In this week’s developing news, the ACCC’s News Media Bargaining Code is a subject of international passion and scrutiny, as new voices join the discussion on how to move forward, with Google making another plea to the public. In the United States, Section 230 gets a look as a vehicle for reining in the tech giants. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook experienced news-related technical glitches this week.

Section 230 considered possibility for reigning in platform power

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, according to this analysis by The Nieman Lab, is the “bedrock law” that says, “when it comes to legal liability, Web sites should be treated more like newsstands than like publishers.” Now, a new paper, “Regulating Social Media: The Fight Over Section 230 — and Beyond,” makes what the article calls, “a good and valuable contribution, with excellent background summaries.” 

Source: | RAD Campaign
Source: | RAD Campaign

In it, author Paul Barrett makes an argument for a three-step approach that would:

  1. Keep Section 230.
  2. Improve Section 230.
  3. Create a Digital Regulatory Agency. 

The Nieman Lab analysis takes issue with #2 for these reasons:

  1. Any of these ideas could become law without getting Section 230 involved.
  2. Section 230 protects every Web site, not just Facebook and other giants.
  3. Incentivising regulation-via-lawsuit is a bad way to encourage good behaviour.
  4. A policy like this favours incumbents and the powerful.
  5. Do you trust the government to get content moderation right — when the potential penalties for getting it wrong are so huge? 

But the conclusions that Bennett draws are worth heeding: 

Source: | RAD Campaign
Source: | RAD Campaign

“If Section 230 were swept away tomorrow, the Internet would change, and on the whole, not for the better.” The primary objection Nieman draws to the argument is that “it advocates making Section 230 exist only for some companies and not for others, for some Web sites and not for others — all contingent on things like whether the government thinks you’re limiting ‘extreme’ content in the way it would like or whether you’ve paid enough into a journalism fund.”

Diverse response to ACCC News Media Bargaining Code 

This smart analysis by The Conversation recounts the efforts in Europe, the U.K., and Canada, to bring the tech giants to heel. Inquiries in Canada (Broadcasting and Telecommunications Review), the U.K. (Cairncross Review) both call for new regulations, including the implementation of a code of conduct. The article points out that both countries appear to be waiting to see what happens in Australia, although the U.K. also has “a busy policy agenda around digital platforms and is waiting for recommendations from multiple reviews before introducing major regulatory reforms.”

Both countries, it notes, have media systems similar to Australia’s. The three share a common law heritage “and often turn to each other for policy ideas.” Canada has also been active at times in trying to establish international cooperation around platform regulation as a participant in the International Grand Committee, which provides an international forum for legislators working “to establish baseline regulatory principles for the Internet and share policy solutions.” 

But, The Conversation points out, even countries without the shared legal heritage are pursuing similar reforms, naming France as the notable example. France has also joined with Germany to establish “a one-stop shop for bargaining.” 

Finally, the article theorises about why Google and Facebook have had such strong responses to the ACCC’s News Media Bargaining Code: “The threat of a consistent international approach that would see Google and Facebook pay for news in multiple countries is what has brought the platforms onto the front foot, engaging in a dedicated public relations exercise. The cost of paying for news globally has not been accounted for in their business models, and it’s an expense they are not keen to wear.” 

The article is timely because it comes just as Google released a Q&A blog post, How Google Supports the News Industry. Therein, you will find answers, boiled down for public consumption, to questions such as:

  1. How does Google use news content?
  2. Do news Web sites have a choice whether to appear or how to appear in search results?
  3. Does Google value news content?
  4. Why do you say news queries represent a small proportion of search queries?
  5. How does Google financially support news media businesses?
  6. Hasn’t Google taken news publishers’ revenues? 

At the same time, a chorus of new voices is weighing in on the Code:

  • Wired had this opinion piece on why governments shouldn’t choose the news in your feed.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalist carried this piece about who should pay for news from the perspective of Australia’s journalist union.
  • Youth and lifestyle Web sites fear that the Code may hamper or harm news diversity, according to the Brisbane Times.
  • Regional and local publishers are “slamming” what they are calling “’disingenuous’ public warnings about changes to news articles on their platforms,” as reported by Australia’s North Central Review.

Google, Facebook experience problems with news content

In other news, Search Engine Journal reported Google experienced an indexing issue with new articles, while Facebook said in a Digiday article that a technical issue caused its ads to appear on publisher Web sites without their permission.

Banner image courtesy of piter2121,

About L. Carol Christopher

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