The War on Words

Elke Farnworth
September 25, 2020

If you didn't think the top news headlines of 2020 could get any more unbelievable amid 'Australia Is On Fire', 'The 2020 Apocalypse' and 'Monday Night Toilet Paper Wars', don't rest easy yet. The year is still young, and a war has been brewing between News Corp mogul Rupert Murdoch and social media magnate Mark Zuckerberg alongside Alphabet Inc (parent company of Google).

If this is the first you're hearing this, Australia is the first country to go up against ad-tech giants Facebook and Google with a regulatory order where they will have to pay for all news media content shared on their platforms, apparently aiming to protect consumers by improving transparency and addressing the power imbalance between platforms. As stated by Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, this is to be finalised no later than November.

Given Rupert Murdoch’s reputation as an ardent influencer in the Australian political landscape, the 89-year-old billionaire is ironically being positioned as David in the story with the tech giants firmly placed as Goliath. Originally lobbying the government to take a harder look at his fiercest competitors. Surely self-interest couldn’t be a motivating factor and his intensions lay purely to support free speech. The whole 2020 thing is just getting wilder by the minute.


The proposed legislation comes after a jaw-dropping report that took 18 months to prepare by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. So before we continue, this is what the consumer watchdog found:

  • More than 98% of online searches on mobile devices are with Google and Facebook.
  • The 17 million users are connected to its’ platform for at least half an hour per day.
  • Google and Facebook are taking a large share of online advertising revenue, even though much of their content came from news media organisations.
  • Google controls 96% of general search data.
  • Facebook and Google own 50% of display advertising; no other competitor owns more than 5%.
  • The number of journalists has fallen by 10%.
  • The number of local news organisations has fallen by over 95%
  • There are 21 Australian regional areas without any local newspaper or online presence (a significant downfall for free press in the name of democracy).

So you can see why the enquiry by Murdoch has everyone involved sharpening their knives. News Corp isn't alone on this. Everyone can agree that news as we know it has been disrupted by Facebook and Google. The fact that news media companies could lose a minimum of $100 million with minimal change to the algorithm raises eyebrows. The power imbalance is just too strong, if you want your news story to be seen by the masses, you have to get in bed with Facebook and Google. News Corp isn't laying down without a fight.


If you're an avid ‘Netflixer’, you will have seen the new trailer for The Social Dilemma purposefully played once opening the streaming service (going live a month prior to this mandatory order to be finalised). A confronting and disturbing documentary-drama that is in the top ten. Showcasing the horrific truths of using social media. So it comes as no surprise to find who partly owns content assets for Netflix. Murdoch’s’ 21st Century Fox mic drop. Also, while in my investigation it also comes as no surprise to see that said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is one of few who gets invited to the Murdoch's exclusive Christmas party to kick start the PR for the year. A minor yet interesting piece of gossip that makes you question whether the middleman is really the middleman when he’s rubbing shoulders and clinking glasses with one side of the war on words. At what point does one go from middleman to puppet.

We’ve got the most powerful media company in Australia versus two of the biggest companies in the world and then we have the Australian Government wavering on the fence pretending it’s all about what’s best for the people. It's no wonder the headlines of this topic have changed more than a baby’s diaper.

Despite the fact that Facebook and Google don't have much of a leg to stand on between election manipulation, fake news and 2020 doing its thing. Will Easton, the Director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, responded on the 31st of August telling News Corp to get zucked. I mean, he didn't use those words exactly but he did release a short and not so sweet response stating that "When crafting this new legislation, the Commission overseeing the process ignored the important facts, most critically the relationship between the news media and social media and which one benefits most from the other."

In my opinion he's got a valid point. The world’s media organisations choose to post news on social media platforms for this precise reason. By doing this it encourages a two-way communication, evidently increasing readership which in turn, allows them to build credibility and sell more subscriptions and advertising. Will Easton also stated that "over the first five months of 2020 they sent 2.3 billion clicks from Facebook's News Feed, back to Australian news websites at no charge – additional traffic worth an estimated AUD $200 million to Australian publishers." So it makes you wonder, is Murdoch just being greedy about the size of his pie and dirty that he hasn't been able to stick his fingers in yet?


Some would say newspapers are for the dark ages, but this is mistaken in my view. Newspapers continue to set a daily agenda, particularly in politics. Even though I for one do not have my finger on the pulse from a political standpoint but news channels offer verified and legitimate information on what’s going on locally and globally. They are responsible for the majority of online information which in turn feeds journals (example A) and social media. In my opinion, they're two separate entities. For what it's worth I 'Googled' what Facebook is: "It's about connecting with friends, family and other people you know, share photos and videos, send messages and get updates." It is what it is and should be that way. Reining in the tech giants is a profoundly complex issue. Yet one thing about it is certain: with figures as diverse as those above, it's not going to go down without a fight. All I know is that I don't want to be the Australian Government now that the giants have spoken up. As they say, "Never be convinced by the last argument you've heard".