Donald Trump’s war on TikTok in the US and Rupert Murdoch’s on Facebook in Australia are not seen for their real meaning: as government attacks on the popular press, on freedom of expression, on human rights.
In Australia, Facebook only said the company will prevent media companies – and users – from posting messages on Facebook and Instagram if Murdoch-backed laws are passed that require platforms to pay for messages.
Who is hurt there? The public and their conversation. The public is losing access to their means of sharing and debating news. Never before in history – never before on the Internet – did everyone have access to a press. only the privileged had it, and now the privileged will deprive people of them. Without the people’s press, we would not have heard #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, #OccupyWallStreet and the voices of so many for too long. This is a human rights issue.
Australian legislation is a cynical mess. It’s a blatant protectionism from Murdoch and the old corporate press that requires platforms with guns on their heads to “negotiate” in order to cite, promote and broadcast traffic, audience and tremendous value for news sites. It’s illogical. Facebook, Google and others haven’t stolen a penny from old media. They competed. Saying Facebook owes newspapers is a white plutocrat’s regressive view of reparations. By that logic, Amazon owes Walmart, which owes A&P, who owes the descendants of Luigi’s corner grocery store, which owes a Hester Street vegetable seller. Facebook owes nothing to news.
This is a case of outrageous government action on the part of Murdoch. He doesn’t give a rat a fuck about news and informed democracy. More than any other living person, he was the scourge of democracy in English-speaking countries. Australian legislation aims to only give money to big publishers like Murdoch. If Facebook does its threat well and bans news, the news business as a whole will suffer, but the biggest players in the field who have brand awareness – i.e. Murdoch – will gain market share over smaller and newer competitors. Murdoch will be even more free to spread his propaganda. This is an attempt by the old press to impose stamp duty on the new one. Facebook is right to oppose, just like Google was when Spain imposed its stamp duty on links (and Google News left the country).
Now for Trump’s war on TikTok. This is also a question of freedom of expression. In my opinion, TikTok is the first platform that makes us rethink the media and the dividing line between producer and audience, because TikTok is a collaborative platform on which people not only comment on each other, but create them together. It’s the only social network that Trump and his cultists couldn’t play. It’s the platform that enabled Sarah Cooper and countless citizens to mock Trump. So he hates it and wants to abuse his power to kill it.
If TikTok goes about government fiat, so does Sarah Cooper’s ability to criticize the man who killed it. What could be a clearer violation of the first change? Why is nobody shouting that? I think the old press still believes that the meaning of “press” is a machine that dispenses ink. The internet is the popular press. It’s a machine that spreads power.
Keep in mind that none of these platforms were designed for news and life would be easier without them and the controversy and advertising campaigns that come with them. Facebook was built for hookups and party pictures. People decided to use it to share news and discuss. Twitter is designed to let friends know where you’ve been drinking. People decided to use what they saw to share with the world, to discuss public order and organize movements. Google was designed to find websites, not news, but it added the ability to find news when people showed they wanted to. YouTube is designed to stream silly videos. People decided to use it for everything from education to news. TikTok is designed for lip-synchronous music. People decided to use it to mock the fool in the White House.
In any case, the media could have built what the platforms did. They could have provided people with a place to share their experiences and discuss public issues. Instead, they provided dark, damp, and neglected corners in which to comment on the journalist’s content. They could have provided a place for the churches to meet, gather, share, gather, and act. They have not. They could have provided the creators with a place to collaborate, but instead they only care about their own creation. The news media took every opportunity. Their public – their readers, viewers, listeners, users, customers – went elsewhere to harness the power that the Internet offered them. Platforms shared that power with the public. Not publishers. The platforms owe nothing to the publishers. The publishers owe the public an apology.
Now, of course, the cynical Murdoch and his media colleagues have found an ideal slide in Mark Zuckerberg because nobody likes Mark these days, right? Why is that? In part, of course, it’s because Mark is incredibly wealthy, not particularly telegenic, and unable to control the jerky Bronco he is riding. But it is also due to the way the media tell about him: he is suddenly the cause of social grievances that have existed since people learned to speak. When reading media coverage on Facebook, please keep in mind that reporters, even if subconscious, write from a position of jealous conflict of interest. Murdoch, more than any other publisher on this side of Germany, has killed his troops on Facebook, Google, Twitter and the internet who they believe stole their apparent fate and dollars.
Required Disclosure: Facebook has funded disinformation and messaging-related projects at my school, some of which are ending. Personally, all I get from Facebook or a tech company is free drinks at the conferences they hold to help the news industry. I am accused of defending Facebook, although Facebook always does not make defense easy and I am often critical. What I am defending is the internet and the power it is finally giving citizens. What I am defending is the popular press.
I would love to hear First Amendment lawyers and scholars in the US and human rights activists around the world defend the popular press from attacks in the Philippines, Russia, China, Hong Kong, Hungary, Turkey, Belarus, Brazil, and the United States and States Australia.
None of this is new. Whenever there is a new technology that allows more people to speak, those who controlled the old technology – and the power that went with it – seek to prevent the people they consider invaders from sharing that power . It happened when the scribe Filippo de Strata was trying to convince the Doge of Venice to ban the press and the drunken Germans they brought to Italy. Princes attempted to grant allies printing monopolies. Recent popes and kings and autocrats have banned and burned books and the people who wrote them. England had the Stationers Company license and censorship authorized publication. Charles II tried to close coffeehouses to interrupt the discussion of news in them. American newspaper publishers tried to exclude new radio competitors from broadcasting news. Each time they eventually lost. For the speech is out.
Teapot and lid. The left side is labeled “America: Liberty Restored” and the right side is labeled “No Stamp Act”. 2006.0229.01 from.