Daily Mail: We must act now against this bullying parasite

Article written for the Daily Mail - published 23 February 2021

This is a battle we should have fought and won long ago. But now that the stakes have risen so high - with Facebook and the Australian government at war over the tech giant's refusal to pay for news content - we must all throw our full support behind our democratic friends Down Under.

And we must step up our own efforts to end the bullying and curb the powers of Facebook and other social media giants.

For far too long these multi-billion-dollar companies (Facebook's income last year was £61billion) have got away with fiscal murder.

Then when a government such as Australia's rightly decides to take action, first Google threatens to withdraw its search engine and next Facebook has the nerve to block news content - an assault on freedom of speech and proof, if needed, that the behemoth's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, regards his organisation as a law unto itself.

He seems to believe that tax is for others to pay; appearing before a parliamentary committee is an indignity; accountability means nothing.

At a time when more and more people get their information from social media rather than bona fide news organisations - which in law are held to account and have to behave responsibly - Facebook is happy to help itself to content from newspapers and magazines and, in the process, take billions of dollars worth of advertising from those news organisations whose very existence is now under threat.

Facebook's unofficial motto is to make money out of everything and pay for nothing.

That's why I welcome yesterday's announcement that Europe's Press publishers and Microsoft have agreed to work together to make sure that content is paid for.

I also welcome the fact that Google has signed partnership deals with some publishers that will lead to the search engine paying for journalism - but what's absolutely crucial is that any deals of this kind must be totally transparent, open to independent arbitration and not exclude other news organisations in the future.

The point is that the tech companies should pay a premium for premium journalism - but that is not in their DNA.

Instead, Facebook and others are out to destroy news organisations as we know them and, in turn, that amounts to an attack on our democracy.

Time and time again we have seen that Facebook cannot be trusted. While on the one hand it refuses to pay for well-sourced journalism, it is at the same time happy to allow filth to be seen and read on its platforms.

It is unable to regulate itself and has expanded so fast that no form of legislation has been able to keep up.

That's why here in the UK we must push on with launching the new Digital Markets Unit within the Competition and Markets Authority, which hopefully will have real teeth, encourage genuine competition and promote consumer choice.

It is time the likes of Facebook were forced to give something back to those news organisations which they feed off for free and then use as bait for advertisers. They are nothing more than parasites - living off other people and making money while everyone else struggles.

During the pandemic it has been painful watching Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and others make vast amounts of money peddling false information while regional newspapers and other news organisations are facing ruin.

They are abusing their market power because people and businesses can't afford not to use them. What needs to happen is that, similar to the way YouTube pays artists when people listen to their music on its platform, Facebook and Google must be made to pay the providers of news - and the Australian government is absolutely right to bring forward legislation which will force them to do so.

Our democracy clearly is under threat. So how perverse it is that our former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg - now Facebook's vice president for global affairs and communications - has nailed his colours to the mast of bullying?

We know what side he is on. It is the one which believes in closing down news feeds and allowing the proliferation of disinformation. We need to take decisive action now.

Copyright 2019 Damian Collins. All rights reserved

Promoted by Russell Tillson for and on behalf of Damian Collins, both of Folkestone & Hythe Conservative Association both at 4 West Cliff Gardens, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1SP

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