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Monday, 01 April 2019 10:25

Australia has a chance to cut Zuckerberg down to size

Mark Zuckerberg: tackling each crisis with an Utopian op-ed. Mark Zuckerberg: tackling each crisis with an Utopian op-ed.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg has a somewhat predictable way of dealing with what looks like an approaching crisis: write an op-ed that recommends some fanciful Utopian remedy for all the world's ills — that, presumably, will also cover Facebook — and hope that it will get enough traction to prevent regulation.

On Saturday, Zuckerberg was pushing an idea to have the whole world follow uniform standards to regulate content. Which, of course, is the obvious answer to problems like hate speech or objectionable content online! Why on earth couldn't politicians worldwide latch on to it earlier?

On 6 March, the Facebook chief was out there, pushing a vision of a privacy-focused site. When one's money comes from dealing in other peoples' data, how does that kind of vision play out? Do you strangle your own business to respect the privacy of others? Who is foolish enough to swallow the Kool-Aid this man is pushing?

This way of dealing with crises has been seen in the past and will continue. Every time there is an issue, the baby-faced Zuckerberg will issue an op-ed laden with platitudes and buy some time. He knows public memory is woefully short – even a horrific massacre like that in Christchurch will pass from the public mind. And then Zuckerberg can sit back and count his billions, until the next crisis arrives.

But Australia has the chance to throw a wrench in the social media behemoth's works. Talk of legislation to levy uncommonly large fines (10% of turnover – whether that is global turnover or Australian turnover is not spelt out) and prison sentences should not end there. The law should be drafted and passed in Parliament before the election is called.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has a role to play too. He is in the process of finalising a report on digital platforms and the way they have unfairly eaten the lunch of the news media.

Sims should make the social media companies pay for what they monetise and not be taken in by bogus pleas that they are doing a lot of good for the media. This is not the time to take a backward step, but a time when one should go on the front foot.

Australia has some form in leading the world on reform. One example that comes to mind is the move that resulted in plain paper packaging for cigarettes. Despite a lawsuit from Phillips and lobbying by organisations like the Institute of Public Affairs — with current MP Tim Wilson leading the charge for the tobacco company — the attorney-general of the time, Nicola Roxon, held firm and won the day.

Gun laws, cutting the entertainment industry down to size — the latter by what was then a medium-sized independent Internet service provider iiNet — are other examples of sensible actions that have done the nation good and put exploitative organisations and industries in their place.

There will be only one casualty if the Australian Government sticks to its guns (no pun intended) and passes the legislation it has promised – the man/woman who writes those op-eds for Zuckerberg.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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