‘Tech monopolies should meet rules or move out’: Miller

Jun 05, 2024 at 06:31 pm by admin

The frustration was palpable in the press club address of News Corp Australia boss Michael Miller as he spoke of Big Tech’s decision to “walk away” from agreements they made under the Media Bargaining Code.

And of interactions with government ministers who, while agreeing that something needs to be done to force the likes of Meta, TikTok and X to lift their game, do nothing.

Elsewhere, News’ national daily The Australian recalled the successive telephone calls Miller and other Australian media chiefs received, advising them that agreements would not be renewed, cutting off a lucrative source of revenue.

In his address, Miller says the tech monopolies should be called on to meet a new set of rules… or the digital space handed over to those who would agree to them. It’s an emotional address citing the ‘Australian values’ statement visa applicants have to sign, as well as the laws under which companies are bound.

He quotes the example of a “beautiful young man” – who died after being blackmailed by a 45-year-old man pretending to be a young woman on Meta’s Instagram – and referenced other parents who came to Canberra yesterday to meet with parliamentarians. “The leading cause of death among Australians aged 15-24 is suicide,” he said.

And he challenged Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg’s January claim that no causal link had been between using social media and young people having worse mental health.

“Government statisticians and mental health experts and especially the parents of children we have lost, know otherwise,” Miller said.

He cited the experience of mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, whose image is being used in advertisements that trick vulnerable Australian out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and who had fought for years to get Meta to stop them… “but they won’t.”

And quoted federal cyber security minister Clare O’Neil that “just about every problem that we have as a country is either being exacerbated or caused by social media,” without “a skerrick of responsibility” being taken by the companies.

“On social media, bad behaviour is good for business,” he said, claiming social media giants profit from evil videos, from bullying, from online con artists, and from glamorising eating disorders.

Miller says Australian news companies are in new territory again with Meta’s decision to “walk away” from a deal to pay Australian news companies for their content. “I believe they have an obligation to renew the agreements, and honour our laws,” he said.

“It’s intriguing that Meta has no problem turning off the news, but has a big problem turning off teenage fight clubs, the bullying of young women or scam advertising.”

He also quotes assistant treasurer Stephen Jones that Meta is “for criminals, and against journalism”, he urged that Australians “can’t let ourselves be bullied, and called for Meta to be designated under the Media Bargaining Code “and challenged to negotiate in good faith.

“As a nation we must not blink now,” he says.

The problem is the precedent of the “ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card” given to US tech companies through a “blanket legal exemption from responsibility” under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Cited by companies in their arguments for global harmonisation, it created a “permissive environment” for digital innovators to flourish… and has led to a global crisis.

“Now that they have become some of the most profitable and impactful companies the world has ever seen, even American regulators and politicians know that time is up,” he said, describing Congress’s failure to revisit Section 230 as “irresponsible and untenable”.

In Australia and elsewhere, fines “don’t work” with court appeals taking years, and global agreement “is never going to happen”.

Miller says “on behalf of 27 million Australians, the Australian Government has the mandate and ability to re-establish and reassert itself as the representatives and rule makers of Australia – by resetting the rules for global platforms’ access to Australians. “It’s time to stop asking for change, and start demanding change.”

Miller says tech monopolies should be made to pay a ‘social licence’ – a package of laws and requirements that they would need to meet if they want access to Australian consumers. Platforms would be liable for all content that is amplified, curated, and controlled by their algorithms or recommender engines, “no hiding behind Section 230 in Australia.

“The licence should require that each platform has an effective consumer complaints handling system, including call centres contactable by telephone with expert staff in Australia.”

Other measures he calls for include:

An ex ante competition framework set out by the ACCC which would address the problem of the monopolised digital advertising markets;

A contribution to the money being spent tackling mental health problems;

A requirement for tech platforms proven to be the media’s unavoidable trading partners, would be to honour the Media Bargaining Code and compensate publishers and media companies.

Penalties should incorporate criminal sanctions for companies and their executives that agree to the licence, but then break the rules;

And the power to “ultimately block access to our country and our people if they refuse to play by our rules.

Claiming the idea of a ‘social licence’ is “neither over reach, nor pie in the sky,” Miller says tech companies “could sign up or not – their choice.

“And if Meta, or TikTok, or X walked away, my response would be: ‘It’s not the end of the world.’

“We all know innovation occurs in the digital space. And the tech monopolies know how quickly the void would be filled.”

Peter Coleman

Sections: Newsmedia industry


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