Industry Analyst & Strategist

Facebook’s Internet Mess

Well well, Facebook took the bait and the fight has begun, Changes to Sharing and Viewing News on Facebook in Australia: “In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.” Uh, ok.

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A couple of salient takes from around the open web, first, Dries Buytaert, Facebook Unfriends Australia: “Facebook struggles to silence misinformation for years, but succeeds in silencing quality news in days. In both cases, Facebook’s fast and loose approach continues to hurt millions of people …” Then we have at The Independent, Australian law could make internet ‘unworkable’, says World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee: “Specifically, I am concerned that [Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law] risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.”

There are two big issues that are coming to light in this fight.

Don’t Post

As much as it may drive me a bit nuts to defend Facebook, let’s actually defend, as Tim Berners-Lee suggests, the fundamental principle of the web. If you post it, people can read it, AND link to it.

The linking is called deep linking and according to Digital Media Law Project, Linking to Copyrighted Materials: “The most straightforward case is so-called “deep linking,” which refers to placing a link on your site that leads to a particular page within another site (i.e., other than its homepage). No court has ever found that deep linking to another website constitutes copyright or trademark infringement. Therefore, you can link to other websites without serious concerns about legal liability for the link itself, with the exception of activities that might be contributory copyright infringement or trafficking in circumvention technology.” So search engines, social media, user generated contents, and this site, all have a right to make those connections happen.

The Media Bargaining law wants to “penalize” a certain type of user (re-user media) for doing a very natural thing online. Some media sites (original media) have been successful in avoiding this issues entirely raised by the law by fire-walling their content. The best examples that highlight good usage of fire-walled content include The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

What about personal vs. commercial use? We might dive into a mighty morass of legal craziness here but let’s see if I can form an analogy that works. If I have a radio with an antenna, I can pull in signals, select a frequency, and enjoy the latest Taylor Swift. What I can’t do is invite people to my bar that has music without paying someone. Same medium, different usage. No one argues the thinking of this (anymore). It makes sense that re-using content for direct or indirect profit should incur an expense to the re-user. Also, the costs are definitely scalable. If I’m only getting 10,000 visitors per month, well that’s probably not going to incur a cost, but at 1,000,000, why not? Music has figured it out with licensing arrangements handled primarily by BMI and ASCAP. They are performance rights organizations (PROs), “Anyone who plays songs publicly is required to pay royalties to the songwriter if that songwriter has indicated they desire payment and they are a member.”

That Garden

The other major issue that doesn’t explicitly come up in other Media Bargaining law reports (but should!) is that committing to a proprietary platform can really put your content and business in jeopardy. As Facebook showed quite forcibly is that THEY will write the rules. Committing to a platform such as Facebook really puts your livelihood in jeopardy.

We are seeing a huge valuation in Wix, current market cap is $19.65 billion! While Wix market share has remained fairly stable over the last year, 1.5% of all websites, it’s still a lot of websites! People going that route are entering a different version of Facebook where their content can just as easily be restricted. I’m not talking deplatforming because of genuine content concerns, I’m talking deplatforming because of business models.

Open source, no matter the platform, is the only way to confidently build your online presence. This isn’t fear mongering, it’s the only reasonable alternative to a dangerous environment of platform uncertainty. If you can’t have as much vertical integration and ownership of your website as possible, someone, some company, or some law, will cause at best a level of unexpected expense, at worst the complete blocking of your online presence.

Facebook’s content shutdown should be a wakeup call for all website designers and developers.

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