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Are We Friends Again?

February 26, 2021

Who has more power—a country or a social media company? Well, it depends on who you ask. Earlier this month, there was a virtual standoff between Australia and Facebook. Here’s what happened … Australia proposed a law that would require companies like Facebook and Google to pay news organizations to allow them to share news content from their platforms. Forcing companies to pay for news content? No thanks, says Facebook and Google! These tech giants didn’t like the idea and voiced it by threatening to cut off Australia’s access to their platforms. Despite these threats, however, the New Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was headed to the Australian parliament for a vote. Facebook decided that enough was enough and banned Australians from receiving news on Facebook and Australian news outlets from posting on Facebook. Yep, for five days, Australians had no news on their Facebook feeds! While talks between Facebook and the Australian Government have since smoothed things over a bit (Australia’s amending the law so it supports journalism and not so much large news organizations), the row raised a bigger question—should governments regulate social media companies when it comes to news content? Why do you think this question came up in the first place?

Background: You may be too young to remember a time when the internet wasn’t the go-to place for information, but your parents probably do. It wasn’t so long ago (we’d estimate approximately three decades!) when people relied on TV, radio, or printed newspapers to learn about what was happening in the world. But when the internet became more and more popular, so did digital news. The shift from print to digital became a problem for news organizations because they began to lose money. People started reading news online, which resulted in fewer people purchasing printed newspapers. Less people reading printed newspapers also meant less businesses wanting to buy advertisements from news organizations. After all, what’s the point of having an advertisement in a newspaper if no one’s going to see it? Companies started buying more advertising space online. Later on, social media companies, like Facebook, were formed. These companies became more and more popular, and people started to use their social media platforms to catch up on the news via posts and stories that would show up in their feeds. Large news organizations began blaming social media companies for their revenue loss. Social media companies, on the other hand, believe that news organizations actually benefit from their platforms. Who’s right? Is there a right or wrong, or is this just business?