Logos of social media companies.
Social media companies have been accused of fuelling issues such as cyberbullying and revenge porn. Image by AP PHOTO
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Social media giants told to pay price, play by rules

Kat Wong June 5, 2024

Social media giants pose a threat to the entire nation, not just the struggling news industry, one of the country’s most powerful publishing executives warns.

And it’s time to level the playing field, News Corp Australasia executive chair Michael Miller says.

“These tech giants – especially social media networks such as Meta, TikTok and X – operate outside our legal system,” he told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

“We know the collective damage they cause to our young and elderly, businesses big and small, to our democracy.”

News Corp's Michael Miller.
 Social media must meet community obligations, News Corp’s Michael Miller says. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Social media platforms including Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, once filled their feeds with news content to attract sign-ups and engagement.

But now their user bases have grown, the platforms have begun stifling news content and choking traffic to publications.

Instagram users must explicitly opt in to “political” content, Facebook will soon sunset its news tab and X has stopped showing news headlines and links on posts.

And in March, Meta – which owns Instagram and Facebook – revealed it would not renew its deals worth millions of dollars with Australian news publishers under the news media bargaining code.

Social media had fuelled issues such as cyberbullying, revenge porn, doxxing, trolling, eating disorders and mental health concerns, Mr Miller said.

In recent months, social media’s role in the proliferation of violent content has been debated after videos of a stabbing at a Western Sydney church circulated on X.

“News media is the canary in the coal mine and this current battle in my industry is part of a much larger struggle,” he said.

“As a nation, we must not blink now. No company should be too big to regulate.”

He is calling on the government to rein in the tech goliaths by establishing a “social licence”.

Facebook
 Facebook won’t renew deals worth millions of dollars with Australian news publishers. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Technology companies would have to pay for the licence and abide by a series of laws and requirements.

Platforms would be liable for all content that is amplified, created and controlled by their algorithms, and would have to maintain an effective consumer complaints handling system and contribute to funding aimed at tackling mental health issues.

Those that refuse to obey would be penalised and any who agree to the license but break rules would potentially face criminal sanctions.

“If a company wants the right to access every part of our lives, so it can profit from our habits and choices … there’s a price to pay,” Mr Miller said.

“What I’ve talked about today is an industry issue – it’s not a News Corp issue, it’s an Australian issue, it’s an Australian business issue and that’s why a license would encompass far more than just media.”

News Corp plays a significant role in the Australian news landscape, owning papers including The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, Courier Mail and one of Australia’s most-visited websites, news.com.au.

Rupert Murdoch
 Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has been involved in major scandals in the US and UK. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Overseas, News Corp mogul Rupert Murdoch also owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and a host of British tabloids.

However, questions have been raised over whether the company is qualified to address these issues.

Shuttered British newspaper News of the World was embroiled in a phone hacking scandal in the 2000s and Fox News was forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars over allegations it had published false statements about voting machines used in the 2020 US election.

The Australian Press Council in 2021 ruled The Australian breached fairness and accuracy guidelines when covering transgender issues, causing “substantial distress” to transgender people and their families.

Former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said the idea of News Corp lecturing people on ethics was “a bit ridiculous”.

But Mr Miller maintains the company’s behaviour differs from tech corporations.

“The way they behave and the little care they have for the country, the little they give back, the fact they don’t play by Australian rules, they don’t subscribe to Australian values – is quite different,” he said.