News Corporation’s war on Facebook is over control of social media

By Joe Montero

An article that recently appeared in The Age (13 May 2018) and written by John McDuling, argued that a big reason why Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are in trouble, is the campaign has that been carried out by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation for ten years.

This does not absolve Zuckerberg and his company from the wrongs over Cambridge Analytica and other misdeeds. But it does add some context.

As John McDuling says, News Corporation charges that Facebook, and other social media platforms are damaging journalism. There is truth to this, although many would argue, News Corporation is much worse in this respect.

Both carry with them the habit to be somewhat less than truthful and to manipulate information for what many consider less than honourable ends.  News is business to make money out of, and a means to achieve corporate political aims and traditional media and the Internet can both be used for these purposes.

Social media has another side as well. It provides a voice for those who are powerless and not rich enough to have open access to television, newspapers and radio. This is something that can’t be said for News Corporation.

The world’s most powerful media company is feeling the heat of the digital revolution. Its traditional media is shrinking, and it seeks to move into the digital age. The problem is that Facebook and the other digital giants are in the way.

We saw how the tension in the National Broadband Network was handled in Australia. News Corporation’s  mouthpieces waged a campaign against it,which persuaded the Turnbull government to come up with a mess.

It was a delaying tactic. The new network posed a threat to Foxtel (owned jointly by News Corporation and Telstra), and News Corporation was not yet in the position to take it over. The tactic used in Australia fits into the global strategy.

The guns are out against Facebook, because News Corporation sees interactive media as a potential source of profit, and this can only be maximised by moving in as the dominant player.

It doesn’t stop here. Zuckerberg and the other computer tech companies represent upstarts in the world of global capitalism. They are not part of the old guard, centred on the banking and financial giants, which dominate most industries. This financial oligarchy is the perfect portrayal of the world of suits in hidden boardrooms and dominant hidden shareholders.

The Silicon Valley tech companies are in your face entities led by public personalities, with a hands-on role in their companies. The difference is not only a matter of style. In business, the upstarts take a significant slice of the economic pie, which is denied to the old guard. The two groups are in a fierce competition, in a battle between the old and new economies.

There is a political division too. The financial oligarchy increasingly shifts to the promotion of iron fisted politics, as the solution to problems. Silicon Valley moves towards a more liberal position.

News Corporation is thoroughly embedded in the financial oligarchy. Its ongoing existence depends on it, and iron fist politics happens to fit in nicely with Murdoch’s own view of the world.

In the United States, the financial oligarchy promoted Trump and his politics. The rivals lined up behind the Clinton led Democrats. In Australia the Abbott and Turnbull governments have been promoted as the iron fist alternative, and the Pauline Hanson persona created as a ginger group. The difference is that Silicon Valley has not yet regarded Australia as important enough to be too involved in.

Within this division of interests, News Corporation is leading the charge for the regulation of the tech companies. This might appear a bit odd, because regulation is not the preferred option for a company that preaches small government and minimal regulation.

John McDuling says, “What’s interesting though, is that with anger towards Facebook and other tech giants now more widespread, and regulators sharpening their knives, News Corp appears to be locked in behind a solution. The company wants to see a government body established to monitor the opaque algorithms that power these platforms.

“It the idea of an Algorithm Review Board, or ARB, in its (extremely long) submission to an Australian inquiry into digital platforms earlier this month.  News Corp CEO Robert Thomson talked about the idea again last week on a call with Wall Street analysts.”

There is good reason for the exercise of some control over these algorithms (digital code) and anti-social behaviour of these companies, so long as it is control that benefits most citizens and not control that benefits the interests of the financial oligarchy. There is a need for much more transparency.

News Corporation’s main purpose is likely to be to pressure Facebook and the other tech companies, to enter a deal that leads to some form of merger with the media company.

The regulation part, concentrates on enforcing the payment of fees for internet access and downloading. The money would go as “carriage fees” to owners, extended to social media. This is how Foxtel operates. The cable TV user pays system, would be extended into the internet and News Corporation wants to be waiting there to collect.

For the consumer, being logged onto the internet, accessing social media and downloading will become more expensive.

Facebook is naturally going to do all it can to resist moves that will clip its wings. The battle is far from decided yet.




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