As you may know, news publishers are very mad at Facebook and Google. They blame the tech giants for the hollowing out of their industry. Aggregators like Google News, they say, steal content from journalists, by showing the headline and a blurb for free. They very much dislike what they see as Facebook’s stranglehold on content. Facebook was the driver behind everybody’s infamous “pivot to video”, which was based on Facebook’s lies. Facebook continues to lie about the number of people their ads can reach. The way news feeds work is encouraging publishers to focus on clickbait. Sorting algorithms are so opaque that people don’t know how to optimize their content from one day to the next. The list goes on.
In response, Australia, at the behest of Rupert Murdoch, has gone and done a silly thing. They are nearing passage of a law that would force these companies to come to an agreement with publishers for paying said publishers whenever an Australian clicks a link to an Australian news source. The law would prohibit ‘discrimination’ on the basis of whether such an agreement has been negotiated with a given outlet, or how much the payment is. The law would require these companies to notify said outlets fourteen days in advance before making any changes to newsfeed or search algorithms.
The law is very dumb. Let’s start with the dumbest part–the algorithm notifications. First of all, newsfeed algorithms change all the time, and we want them to be changeable quickly, for example in response to objectively harmful viral content like the Plandemic video. Second, these are digital algorithms–it’s not a person sitting there with a checklist, it’s an opaque and ineffable neural network. “In fourteen days, we will change hyperparameter X19z to a value of 0.3.” Does that sound like it helps anybody? This is a very strong signal that the drafters don’t know what they’re doing.
Next up: cui bono? News Corp. They wrote the bill and are getting their money’s worth.
[Google] struck deals in recent days with Australia’s major publishing companies, including on Wednesday with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, to pay for some of their news content. The deal came in exchange for avoiding the most stringent parts of a new law in Australia…
Stories from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Sunday Times and other News Corp publications from the United Kingdom and Australia will show up in special panels on the Google News app, on the search home screen on mobile phones and on Google News on desktop computers.
Interestingly, Google took the opposite tack in responding to a somewhat similar Spanish law a few years ago: they shut down Google News in Spain. You would think that news publishers would have been overjoyed–finally, Google is going to stop stealing from them! But they weren’t overjoyed, because as it turns out Google does not steal from them. The study the publishers commissioned found that
[I]n the short-term, the study found, the law will cost publishers €10 million, or about $10.9 million, which would fall disproportionately on smaller publishers. Consumers would experience a smaller variety of content, and the law “impedes the ability of innovation to enter the market.”
The study concludes that there’s no “theoretical or empirical justification” for the fee.
Facebook, however, has chosen to go this route this time around. They have now prohibited Australians from posting links to news, and everybody else from linking to Australian news sources. Yes, this is hardball, a capital strike–but it’s not quite as audacious as it sounds. More below the fold.