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Facebook’s muscle flexing reflects the new reality

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The Facebook logo is displayed on a mobile phone in this picture illustration taken on Dec 2, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Within days of a rapprochement between the Australian government and social media giant Facebook over payment for news content, the dominoes have started to fall.

Across the Tasman Sea, the New Zealand government has hinted it may follow Australia’s lead.

Kris Faafoi, New Zealand’s minister for broadcasting and media, said on March 4 that he was considering adopting rules similar to those reached in Australia on Feb 25, which require tech giants such as Facebook and Google to pay for using local news.

The world’s population is roughly 7 billion, of which 3 billion are Facebook users. This gives Facebook massive reach and power.

It has the power to switch off the accounts of powerful figures, as was the case with former US president Donald Trump. And it can switch off the news, as it did in Australia on Feb 18 over a long running argument about paying Australian news providers for their news.

Facebook has said news does not drive its revenue base. If that is the case, then why put up such a big fight with the Australian government and Australian media owners over paying for content?

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The short answer is principle. Facebook lives in a world of its own making and will not be told what to do by anyone.

For the best part of three years, the Australian government has been pushing for a code in which social media companies like Google and Facebook pay local media for their content.

Obviously, with talks not going its way, Facebook flexed its Big Tech muscles and banned Australian news organizations. In doing so, it also saw several nonmedia players, such as charities and government sites, blocked as well-something that Facebook said was unintentional.

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The fact that Facebook could simply switch off, in this case, Australian news on its platform was widely criticized as being undemocratic and even authoritarian. But Facebook made its point.

A week later, the news was switched back when a last-minute compromise had been reached following phone calls between Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and the Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

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This is the new reality that has been facing traditional media since the birth of the internet.

For decades, traditional media owners have been watching their ad revenues and readership numbers steadily decline as social media have taken over.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison likes to say social media may be changing the world but do not run it. But in doing so, he misses the point. It has power-real power.

In Australia alone, 17 million people are said to be Facebook users. That’s real power for anyone, considering the population is just over 25 million.

The argument in Australia had more to do with old media trying to cling to their declining power base, rather than politics.

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The problem with old media is that they have seen themselves as the arbiter of truth and justice, a Fourth Estate between the political class, church and the people. But today there is a “fifth estate”, social media, where anyone with a mobile phone or laptop can post their own ideas, viewpoints or opinions. The old, traditional newsroom is now being driven by social media.

Traditional media may have held the moral high ground once, but not anymore. Its prestige is fading along with the typewriter.

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Even so, media companies that still print newspapers are desperate to seek revenue streams from wherever they can get them.

The News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code will now become one such stream, where the Googles and Facebooks of the world will have to pay Australian news outlets for using their content.

Google had already entered into agreements with several Australian news organizations when Facebook said no and blocked all Australian news sites.

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The likes of Facebook do not create news. They just facilitate the link. The irony here is that many of Australia’s news sites are pay sites anyway.

Australia’s media sector is basically controlled by three major players-News Corp Australia, Nine Entertainment (owners of the former Fairfax newspaper group) and Seven West Media. They all have pay sites and will reap rewards from social media players.

The losers will be the small, independent media outfits such as newspapers in the suburbs and in regional Australia.

The author is a China Daily correspondent based in Sydney.

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Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey

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Facebook has had its share of controversies this year. The company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents.

Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.

Yahoo Finance notes, “Facebook has had its share of controversies this year.” Starting in January, Meta-owned WhatsApp got caught up in a huge controversy after the messaging app announced a new privacy policy (Terms of Service). WhatsApp said it would collect user information and share it with third-party apps for a better user experience. However, the app gave users no choice but later made modifications to the policy under pressure. Similarly, the company was under more scrutiny after whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen leaked a series of internal documents showing the company’s problematic practices. It was revealed that Meta-owned Instagram had a negative impact on teenage girls, but the company did almost nothing to rectify the problem.

Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.

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However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.

On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.

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Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal

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In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.

In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.

Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws

It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.

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Russian social media laws

As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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