Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021 08:15 [IST]
Last Update: Tuesday, Jan 26, 2021 02:38 [IST]
At this point, it is safe to say that, for better or worse, social media has had significant effects on every aspect of the traditional news cycle. Everything, from the way news is distributed to the way its consumed has been altered by the undeniable all-encompassing reach of social media. Online journalism before social media was at best a novelty for many news organisations. But social media acting as a platform for news has changed the very dynamic of news. Audiences now have an expectation for quick and ubiquitously available news, a demand that places traditional journalism into considerable stress. Both small and big news organisations engage in frantic efforts to feed an ever widening news audience that demands quick, varied news content. This fragmentation of viewership over several platforms has, needless to say, hit journalism hard and the common perception is that traditional journalism is a dying breed in this new system. The full impact of social media on news media, particularly its engagement with its audience, is yet to fully explored as the system is very much in a state of flux right now. In a time of great upheaval where traditional media houses are struggling with financial pressure from dwindling readership and intense competition from non-traditional news providers, social media outlets and governments too are guiding the debate in a big way.
A recent, major clash between social media and government over news is the ongoing standoff between Google and Australia. To recap, Australia has recently tabled the first media legislation in the world that attempts to force social media giants like Google, Facebook, etc., to negotiate fair payment with the news outlets whose content they use for their newsfeed, searches, etc. It must be noted that Facebook did recently start a news service in UK that follows a similar line of thinking. Facebook started a dedicated news service in the UK that would pay major news players in the country for hosting their news stories. Many have stated that this was Facebook's response to a UK Government that has shown increased desire to crackdown on Facebook for its absolute dominance in online advertising. Similar to the Australian Government now, the UK Government also made clear that it wants the social media giants to do more to help the financial state of traditional media houses which have been significantly impacted by the rise of social media. But the Australian legislation is no halfway compromise. It attempts to enforce a blanket system to force the social media giants to pay for the news content they host. More importantly, as both Facebook and Google fear, the Australian legislation may well set up a major precedent for similar actions worldwide. Naturally, the companies are none too pleased and are actually fighting against the legislation rather aggressively. Facebook has initially threatened to block Australians from viewing its news feed. This week, Google went so far as to threaten to pull its search engine from Australia in protest. In the meanwhile, the company has taken the truly extraordinary step of encouraging its users to fight the legislation. It has even appealed to its YouTube content creators to agitate against this potential change. It is hard to not see this as an obvious attempt to coerce action from the Australian Government. In fact, many commentators have called this particular threat of pulling out an incredible mistake that will damage Google in the long term. Governments worldwide are moving forward with their attempts to bring the power and reach of social media companies to heel. Such unambiguous attempts of coercion will likely expose Google to more aggressive attempts to regulate. While the social media giants do broadly recognise that they need to act before governments force them to, they have so far offered limited solutions to the news media problem. The Australian legislation does not force news outlets to make agreements with the social media giants based on the given framework but it does at least force the deals to exist in the first place. Indeed, organisations will be encouraged to make their own deals with the new legislation acting as fallback and framework to the deal. Surveys have also noted that an increasing percentage of Australians are not only in favour of the legislation but also broader attempts to regulate social media. While Google and Facebook may refuse to negotiate, the cost of doing so may well be too great in comparison to grudging compliance.