Originally published on theconversation.com
We need to talk about Facebook.
Today Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who claims the social media giant is knowingly harming the mental health of teenagers, took part in an online event to brief a group of Australian MPs led by Queensland MP Julian Simmonds.
The discussion comes after documents leaked by Haugen appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and she testified before US Congress and appeared on 60 Minutes. Haugen says insiders know Facebook’s algorithms spread dangerous misinformation but the company is unwilling to act for fear of fewer clicks and lower profits.
What do such claims mean for The Conversation? Can we work with a social media company that is prepared to cause harm?
The issue has come into focus because earlier this year The Conversation tried to negotiate a deal with Facebook under the Australian Government’s News Media Bargaining Code. The Code was set up to redirect some of the revenue amassed by Facebook and Google back to Australian media companies, to support public interest journalism.
Google agreed to fund The Conversation under the Commonwealth Code but Facebook refused. Without providing a reason, Facebook declined to negotiate with The Conversation and SBS, and many other quality media companies eligible under the Code.
This places us in a difficult position. We don’t want to give up on reaching Facebook’s vast audiences, but nor do we want to give Facebook an undeserved veneer of respectability. Facebook has just announced a specific funding program designed to placate media that it refuses to negotiate with under the Code. We have decided not to apply for these grants.
All around the world governments are looking at ways to regulate Facebook. The Australian Code is one of these initiatives that we hope can help strengthen our democracy by making more public interest journalism available.
Despite our reservations about the way Facebook operates, The Conversation should not be treated differently to other media outlets. We do not want to let Facebook off the hook and we need your help:
Please write to your local MP and ask that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg “designate” Facebook under the media bargaining code to force them to negotiate payment for all publishers who genuinely serve the public interest.
Sign this petition that will be tabled in the House of Representatives ahead of a review of the Code in March 2022.
It’s possible that in response Facebook will threaten to remove news from its pages – again. We should not fear this. The Australian Government has already shown it will not give in to bullying.
Mark Zuckerberg’s motto used to be “move fast and break things”. Now the broken thing is Facebook. It’s time for us to move fast, and fix it, before it does any more damage.