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The Insanity of Forcing Tech Companies to Pay For Linking to News

I’m sure many of you have already seen the ongoing battle between Facebook, and Google, and the Australian government. The government, mostly at the behest of Rupert Murdoch, is about to pass a law that forces the “big tech” companies to negotiate with news publishers to pay them for the content that is linked to on Google News or on Facebook.

I’m hear to argue that this is legitimately insane.

Let’s take Facebook, for example, because I think that is the one grabbing the most headlines, and I think is the most insane. Not that asking Google for money so that your news stories are linked in the one place that brings the most traffic isn’t insane, but I think there are some specific things about social media that make this even more insane.

First, let’s find an example. Lets’ hit one of the largest news publishers in Australia. news.com.au.

As you might expect with all the latest stuff going on, there is currently a banner running across their website which suggests you should get their app instead of relying on Facebook for your news. This makes sense, it’s actually something I tell people all the time, don’t just assume the algorithm is showing you what you want to see, if there’s a website or source you want to truly follow, “liking” on Facebook is nowhere near enough, actually subscribe to RSS, email or whatever means is available. So, I’m OK with this:

Don't Rely on Facebook Banner


At this point we know that Australian news publishers want Facebook to pay for their stories that are shared/linked on Facebook, because they believe that too many people are seeing the headline and snippet there, and not coming to their site, where they would get some ad revenue. Again, they are probably right about that. Far too many people are reading headlines on social media platforms and assuming they are informed. I’m not really sure that is technology’s fault though, seems like human error.

Given that, though, wouldn’t the logical thing to do to be to discourage sharing your news on Facebook, and make your readers come to your site and read the headlines and the articles? Of course we all know that’s not really what they want, because that would be bad for business, as we learned when Facebook decided to turn it off earlier this week. We can also see it on their own site, where they would really like you to find them on social media:

Find us On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram

And they would really like you to share their articles to on Facebook and Twitter:

Share buttons

Yes, those are share buttons for each and every article on the site.

Let’s follow that logic train, shall we?

  1. Have website content
  2. Create a Facebook page to share links to said content
  3. Promote your Facebook page and other social media accounts
  4. Encourage readers to share your content to their own social networks
  5. Require Facebook to pay you for the content you put on their platform, and encouraged readers to also add to their platform

Have I got that right? Does that not seem insane?

Look, Facebook is hardly without blame anywhere, but looking at this as a blogger, who links to a lot of new pieces and articles, if I’m forced to negotiate payment for those links, my response will be to remove them all. Period. End of discussion. That is, essentially, what Facebook did, and I get it. Yes, it was heavy handed, but notice how effective it was. The government backed down and created a delay while the companies “negotiate”, and now Facebook can actually negotiate with something, the option to simply remove Australia from the service.

If we feel like Facebook and Google have cornered the online advertising market, and there’s a good argument to be made there, then let’s deal with that. Forcing them to pay for the content that companies willingly put up on their platform, once set as a precedence, will never end. Today it’s news publishers in Australia, tomorrow that will be the EU, then the UK, and on and on. Eventually, it will also be other industries. Eventually it’ll be Twitter, and other social networks, and eventually, most of the places where we “share” things all of the time, who cannot afford to pay for links will be asked to pay for links. Because if it’s “fair” for Facebook to pay for links, why won’t it be “fair” for Reddit to do the same? Why wouldn’t it be fair for LinkedIn? Why wouldn’t it be “fair” for bloggers, or any one who actually wants to share information online in any form? (In fact, should I pay for the link I placed above and the screenshots from their site, or is that fair use? The answer may be about to change.)

On the flip side, as a blogger, would it be “fair” for me to approach Facebook about the people who share my content? Should they pay some amount for the content I created that was linked on their platform? What about other bloggers? Should I send them a bill for linking and talking about my ideas?

Why wouldn’t it be fair, if it’s fair to ask Facebook to pay for the shares of content put out by news publishers, it’s fair to ask anyone to pay for sharing content anywhere. A whole lot of companies will ask, and it will make it much harder for the Internet to remain open and accessible to anyone. That would be a shame.

Let’s talk about what this really is though. Any logical news publisher who thought Facebook was simply stealing their audience, would not seek payment for that while also encouraging people to share their content on that same platform. It’s stupid, but it is also revealing. They don’t want Facebook to stop sharing their content, they want a bigger piece of the advertising pie that Facebook and Google currently dominate. They know that if they simply disappear from both of those services, their own ad revenue will drop dramatically, because a large number of people would never see their content. They also know that the ad revenue they currently get, is not going to keep them afloat. They look at the money Facebook and Google makes on targeted advertising, and they look at their content being shared all over those platforms, and they want paid for those eyeballs as well, regardless of the fact that they put that content over there to start with.

This is, actually, a fight between big tech and big media, with government stepping in on one side, over money. And, they’re both willing to set a precedent that winds up punishing everyone else in order to make their money. It’s pretty disgusting, really.

It does appear that it’s going to happen, so don’t be surprised when this blows up in everyone’s face.

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