by UnHerd
Friday, 19
February 2021
Video
13:28

Claire Lehmann: Facebook has made a bad miscalculation

Quillette's founding editor discusses the company's decision to pull news content
by UnHerd


Earlier this week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a difficult decision to make. Incoming legislation in Australia meant that social media platforms like his were going to be forced to pay news providers to new content. How was he going to respond? Quite aggressively, it would seem. Not only did he instantly pull all news content from Facebook Australia, but he did so overnight — without any warning — before the law even came into effect.

So where does this leave news providers and online sites Down Under? Earlier today, Freddie Sayers spoke to Quillette’s founding editor Claire Lehmann, who joined us from Sydney, to give us a clearer understanding of what this means for publications like hers.

On Mark Zuckerberg:

I It’s pretty clear that there’s no regard for the platform — it’s a communications platform — there’s no regard for how community pages are set up and what impact this might have on local communities. Essential health services were impacted. Even mental health helplines had their pages wiped, and domestic violence hotlines had their pages removed because they share a lot of news content. It’s a big F-you to the Australian user of Facebook. And my perception is that only a company with monopoly power would treat its users in this way. I can’t think of another company that would just give the finger to its users in an entire country, and expect there to be no serious consequences.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On bipartisan distrust of Facebook:

It used to be that after the election of Trump, you know, the Left hated Facebook for allowing Trump to become elected, and for mining people’s data out to Cambridge Analytica, and so on and so forth. But now, the distrust of the platform is definitely bipartisan. Conservatives dislike and distrust Facebook. And in Australia after this shock tactic of this instant ban, we had politicians from the Greens Party, the Labour Party, Liberal Party, all of our politicians were lining up and saying that this is outrageous behaviour. So he’s united the polity here in Australia. And I think he’s definitely miscalculated this move.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On Mark Zuckerberg:

It’s a sign of an immature leader, to be honest…Zuckerberg is interesting, because he’s an outlier in the tech industry, in that he’s both CEO of Facebook and the Chairman of the board. So he really has no accountability to anyone, not even the board members or not even his shareholders, so he basically can do what he likes. And I think that’s one reason why Facebook hasn’t navigated through various controversies very well. And its brand is tarnished.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On algorithms as a censorship tool:

What I notice as a user of Facebook is that censorship is done in an extremely blunt fashion. Their censorship is done first and foremost, by algorithms. And the algorithms do not know how to differentiate between a literary essay, and a violent screed. Having robotic moderators might be cheap but ultimately, it just leads to a dumbed down kind of information ecosystem, which I think Facebook is. And I think it’s really unfortunate that so much of their service is just automated algorithms. I imagine that it’s completely unrealistic for them to employ more people to do content moderation. But, I think it’s another indication that they don’t really take public interest that seriously when everything is automated, and they make something like $37 billion in profit a year. It’s a $500 billion company, and they can’t invest a little bit more in having humans moderate content to make sure that censorship is not such a blunt tool.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

On reforming Big Tech:

In an ideal world there would be more competition in the market. We could pick up our identity, our social media page that we’ve built on Facebook, we could pick up all that data and we would own it, because we would have digital property rights. And then we could take that data over to a new platform that we could enter into without much friction, and have a new social media experience. But because of the nature of network effects, and because Facebook is a monopoly power it is the predominant social media platform. I think the only real way forward is the antitrust action in the United States to break up WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook — there’s that avenue. And then the other avenue is building open source decentralised social media platforms where users own their own digital identity much like Bitcoin, but for social media, or an encrypted social media platform.
- Claire Lehmann, LockdownTV

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Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
1 year ago

This is why no big corporate should have a monopoly on the public digital space.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago

Zuckerberg is sounding increasingly like a really nasty piece of work. And certainly an immature businessman.

Starry Gordon
Starry Gordon
1 year ago

So why do people support him? Zuckerberg would have no monopoly power if people didn’t voluntarily join and use Facebook. Take a walk, folks!

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Starry Gordon

Yes. We all made a “bad miscalculation”…becoming dependent on, and monetizing this “platform” controlled by woke zillionaires-answerable to no one…

Kathy Rogers
Kathy Rogers
1 year ago

I adore your content! Got the link from a friends and I can’t stop listening! Wish you were on Rumble, because YouTube is just a draconian as Facebook!

Paul Wright
Paul Wright
1 year ago

Surely libertarians should welcome Facebook’s robust response to Aussie govt rent seeking on behalf of Murdoch. Unless Facebook is republishing copyrighted articles, why demand rent for link sharing which drives traffic to the news site anyway? Zuck should not back down.

There are already decentralised alternatives to Facebook, both federated servers like Mastodon where users pick a server they like and some servers talk to each other, or things based on peer to peer tech with no central servers at all (Secure Scuttlebutt, say). But these are typically harder to use than FB or Twitter, and while everyone on the big sites prioritises convenience over control, it’s hard to see them taking off.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Wright

The idiotic responses of the West to speech-regulation on social media is will soon lead to a switch to utterly uncontrollable platforms. Someone will make Mastodon easy to use; then the only option for governments is to choose between complete lockdown and hyperregulation of the internet (with national net boundaries in place, like in Saudi) or acceptance that there is literally nothing that can be done to regulate online speech.
This awful choice will be the result of the current childishness of the ra-ra-ban-Trump fools and the dippy “we expect FaceBook to use AI to take down offensive posts” fools.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 year ago

The next move from Zuckerberg will be to instruct his lackey Nick Clegg to issue a promise that Facebook will never make the same move in the U.K.
At least then we will know for sure that it is coming.

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago

mmm Most of the response that I am seeing to facebook’s move here is actually quite different. While many don’t like Zuck and his algorithms (to say the least), we see this move as one by Murdoch to increase his power and revenue. The LNP government is propped up and kept in place by the Murdoch media, who are known to make or break governments here, and strongly favour the conservative parties. This government is facing a scandal (a sexual assault within one of the parliamentary minister’s offices), only holds a 1 seat majority, and has really only held onto power on the back of claiming responsibility for controlling covid, though that has really been handled by the states. This legislation by Morrison is seen as buying the next election victory for himself from Murdoch. Yes, the effect on Australian users has been devastating, but far worse would be the consequences of breaking the fundamental agreement of the internet: free sharing of links. The media code that the government proposes only favours the big players, who have all willingly jumped onto facebook when their own business model failed, and they set their subscriptions at a price level that was above the reach of their regular readers. Now suddenly they want facebook to pay them for directing traffic to their sites, from which they make millions. It’s ludicrous. A second agenda of course is without this free sharing of links and information, informed protest and dissent will be greatly diminished. Which is precisely what Morrison wants in an election year.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

It’s not all about Murdoch, despite the obsession of many Australians. Ch9 (Age/SMH etc) and Ch7 also support this.
However, I don’t see why Facebook should pay for carrying what is essentially free advertising for the dying legacy media and it seems Zuckerberg doesn’t either.

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago

Ch9 and 7 support this as they will get a share of the money if the deal goes through. The legislation comes straight from Murdoch though

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

So what? Age/SMH do the exactly the same with national news

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago

eh? The point is Murdoch does not, has not, and never will support media diversity nor serious journalism. As he is in lock-step with this legislation, it is clearly a smokescreen for his true agenda: securing even more power and control in the market, defeating Kevin Rudd’s push against monopolies and the loss of local and regional voices, and securing more revenue to line his pockets
.

Elizabeth Hart
Elizabeth Hart
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

I agree, concerned that Murdoch media is trying to limit access to other media, upshot is now people are prevented sharing alternative news articles on Facebook. I tried to share a link to a uk news article today on Facebook and received the message: “This post can’t be shared. In response to Australian government legislation, Facebook restricts the posting of news links and all posts from news Pages in Australia. Globally, the posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications is restricted.”

Last edited 1 year ago by Elizabeth Hart
Elizabeth Hart
Elizabeth Hart
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

Here’s another article I couldn’t share on Facebook, published on The Guardian website: Kevin Rudd says Australian politicians ‘frightened’ of ‘Murdoch media beast’ in Senate inquiry.
A quote from the article: The former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has declared that Australian politicians are frightened of Rupert Murdoch – a fear that persisted when he was in the top job and subsided only when he left politics.
Speaking under parliamentary privilege at Parliament House in Canberra, Rudd said the “Murdoch mob” was seeking “compliant politicians”. He told an inquiry into media diversity that politicians were fearful of facing a “systematic campaign”.
“Everyone’s frightened of Murdoch. They really are. There’s a culture of fear across the country,” said Rudd, who has become an outspoken critic of the Murdoch media’s dominant role in the Australian print media.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

Facebook flexing their muscles entirely misses the point of true vulnerabilities. No one is going to see their livelihoods and businesses go south if they don’t have social media. But the same is not the case for huge tranches of business technology, for example Cloud Platforms. Here, Europe is completely beholden to the big three: AWS, Azure and Anthos. Suppose the EU tech regulators demand that Amazon, Microsoft and Alphabet open their tech stacks so they can check to ensure various levels of EU tech compliance are met. Cloud Computing respects no national boundaries, servers serving Paris could be in Paris, Texas, or (soon enough) on a satellite, so to have any meaning, such a request would have to be pan-national. So good luck with getting the US giants, who also serve the US DoD, to open their tech for inspection by EU regulators. At which point the EU could back down. Or they could block, say Microsoft, from trading in the EU for non-compliance. Migration from one Cloud platform to another is expensive IT but that’s the not least of it. What would all those European businesses who have poured hundreds of billions moving their tech over to Azure do? Go over to another US giant, because the same won’t happen there? See what Baidu has to offer by way of Cloud Computing instead? Or perhaps ask the EU regulators to magik up a compliant Enterprise Cloud Services provider in Europe?

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The clowns in Brussels think that their big competitive advantage is – wait for it – regulatory prowess. This fantasy, combined with their lust for power above all other considerations, is a serious threat to the wellbeing of European citizenry.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Perhaps regulators need to impose a system, a bit like moving your bank account, where social media companies cooperate to switch personal profiles between platforms.

Terence Riordan
Terence Riordan
1 year ago

Just make the platforms publishers in law and watch it all become sensible. They do have control of the content they allow so they can be classified under existing law.

Nigel Clarke
Nigel Clarke
1 year ago

I read an excellent interview with a chap called Jarod Larnier several years ago, he was in at the beginning of the internet.
One of the things he mentioned in the interview was that right at the beginning of the internet those people involved discussed how an individuals private and personal information should be handled.
One of the ideas put forward was that each person would own their own information, and if someone on the internet wanted to use that information you would be paid a nominal sum (0.01p or something like that). This would enable the individual to know who was using their information and whether they wanted that person/organisation to have it.
Obviously, this idea didn’t make it, I wonder why?

Paul N
Paul N
1 year ago

Claire Lehmann suggests an interesting alternative approach to Facebook, of “building open source decentralised social media platforms where users own their own digital identity“.
I’m wondering how such a platform would (or could or should) respond in practice to challenges like mass misinformation. The sort of thing that was perpetrated during the recent US election (by “the other side”, naturally), and in the WhatsApp lynchings in India.

Kathy Rogers
Kathy Rogers
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

The issue is WHO determines “mass misinformation” I’d say free speech is free speech and anything short of directing violence should be allowed in a free world!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
1 year ago
Reply to  Kathy Rogers

Yes I agree. This attempt to manage information and narratives and the ‘truth’ is leading the world down a large authoritarian hole.

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Kathy Rogers

Thumbs up.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul N

WhatsApp is controllable (by FB). The next generation will not be.

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago

In specific reference to Claire’s comments: yes, the legislation has not been passed, but it has bipartisan support and was most likely to be passed. Zuckerburg has called the government’s bluff, and they probably had to. Claire Lehmann is missing the point.

Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

Totally. FB is not the bad guy here.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
1 year ago
Reply to  Clare De Mayo

Missing the point? That FB can take down content that millions of people rely on for their safety, livelihoods, etc.? If they were not a monopoly, I’d say do whatever they like. But if you conspire to own all transportation in a country and the lifeblood of the nation depends on it, you have obligations. (not saying social media is like such lifeblood…just exaggerating to make a point).
I’m sure Hitler and Mao were nice once in a while too…but I would never say “they are not the bad guy here”. Just sticks in my throat. Same for Zuck.
My two bits. Great discussion folks!

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago
Reply to  Greg Eiden

not quite right re Australia though. I could post many many articles from independent media sources in Australia decrying Murdoch and supporting Zuck’s stance. Murdoch has been the government kingmaker in Australia for decades. This government legislation would only allow the big players to strike a deal with fb, the little guys will just get even more squashed. Morrison’s move here is seen as just buying the next election from Murdoch. At a local level, people are generating digital workarounds and are hoping Zuck defeats Murdoch on this one. I myself lost a lot of valuable data in the block out, but I lay the blame fairly and squarely at Murdoch’s feet, as do most people I deal with online. Here’s another link from a few hours ago from the AIMN (Australian Independent Media Network). It will give you a flavour of how people are thinking. https://theaimn-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/theaimn.com/citizens-post-to-facebook/amp/?amp_js_v=a6&fbclid=IwAR02bq6rZ465It99JUWzj3Q6jyJUj536B0Sh1ff3WEmL-1YPrp5rr6nqnBM

stephen f.
stephen f.
1 year ago
Reply to  Greg Eiden

Excellent analogy. Thumbs up.

Joe Donovan
Joe Donovan
1 year ago

The comments have me pausing before taking sides in this dispute at all. I just want to point out how unfair it is that my two favorite courageous young intellectual leaders are so damned good looking.

Greg Eiden
Greg Eiden
1 year ago

Government “management” of free speech on social media platforms, or management by the platform owner, is NOT what is leading the world into an authoritarian hole. It is the symptom, not the cause. The cause, or one of the bigger causes at least, is the takeover of Western education by Marxists, extreme leftists and the like. We no longer teach civics in primary schools. The average voter is clueless about their rights, where they come from, and which are most important and why. They not only have no opinion, they don’t know the questions and how those questions have been answered by folks much older and wiser. Until we fix that, the rest is just fiddling while the ship sinks.
I like the idea of owning your profile…more like a mobile phone number than a bank account. Instead of 10 digits, it’s 10 GB, but the idea is the same. You own it to the extent that providers competing for your business make it a feature of their service. No one mandated the phone companies let you take your number with you if you change carriers (at least I don’t recall such?)
Oh, and obviously the 10 GB would be encrypted using bank grade encryption.

Last edited 1 year ago by Greg Eiden
Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
1 year ago

In the end, Facebook is a company, not a community owned platform. They can do what they want really. The lesson is, don’t use Facebook as a platform for your digital business!

Last edited 1 year ago by Wulvis Perveravsson
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

And the Colorado baker who refused to make the Gay Wedding cake and was given a judgement against them of $30,000 on top their legal fees trying to defend against the law suite?

Clive Page
Clive Page
1 year ago

It is surely a good thing that those wanting to access news are forced to get it first-hand from the appropriate web-sites rather than via Facebook. There are, apparently, many Facebook users, especially in underdeveloped countries, who think that Facebook *is* the World Wide Web and know nothing else. If Facebook doesn’t carry news it will not affect those who know which news sources they trust and look at their web-sites when they want to.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
1 year ago

I sense that there is growing bipartisan recognition in the US that the Big Tech monopolists need to be dealt with, and with a firm hand. What form that may take remains to be seen. Certainly the work of those like Stoller at Substack have been pointing to the dangers of oligopoly, monopoly and monopsony now for several years.

Epicurus Araraxia
Epicurus Araraxia
1 year ago

Lehmann is missing the point. What is at stake here is the entire freedom of the Internet. The point of the World Wide Web was that anyone could link to any content anywhere. An article in a newspaper caught your attention? Link to it on your Facebook page so that your “friends” can read it too.
To then turn around and say, “Facebook must pay for those links” is to shred the freedom of the Web and return us to the place where we lived in information silos. Its retro in the worst way.
So, stuff Australia. It’s the legislators there who got it wrong. The traffic is overwhelmingly from Facebook TO the mainstream media. The media gets the traffic for free.
Keep the Internet free of censorship and government interference. If, in the changing world that Tim Berners-Lee’s brilliant idea enabled, those media are unable to thrive, then they must die. It’s a fundamental principle of Capitalism. The fact that those print and broadcast media are mainly owned by large corporations is a large part of their demise. They have become copy-and-paste shops. Investigative journalism has died. It’s a chase for clicks. Instead of being provided with relevant and interesting articles, we get the boring details of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex instead.
Meantime, the REAL journalism has moved on to subscriber-funded platforms. They are not demanding fees from Facebook and Google for links to their content. In fact, they fight to stay visible on those platforms and are constantly being censored because they are an irritation to the corporates that own the traditional media who wish to push out their propaganda in a sea of bland sameness. Let the traditional media die. They have nothing worth saving and their corporate owners deserve what they get.

Last edited 1 year ago by Epicurus Araraxia
Joe Blow
Joe Blow
1 year ago

The entire story is a perfect juxtaposition of:
1.) The ridiculous entitlement of a generation that believes that they are owed stuff, and
2.) Ignorant older politicians who can’t see a way to cut the Gordian knot of social media, free-speech, monopoly and technology limitations.
The Aussie shakedown of Facebook is straight out of the mafia playbook. “You WILL carry news media whether you want it or not, and you WILL pay for it, or else…” Pure abuse of power by a government.

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
1 year ago

Crikey! Lehmann’s got a raw Aussie accent! Here was me thinking one of her ilk would have gone to no end of trouble to speak otherwisely..

simejohnson
simejohnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Don Lightband

Why?

Clare De Mayo
Clare De Mayo
1 year ago
Reply to  Don Lightband

actually her accent isn’t very broad at all. You obviously haven’t heard a Queensland accent. And you are obviously very UK centric