A senior British lawmaker has called on other lawmakers worldwide to stand up against the “bullying” done by social media site Facebook. The U.K. legislator’s comments followed the Big Tech firm’s move to block all news content in Australia. He further remarked that Facebook’s decision to do so will only “stiffen the resolve” of lawmakers in other countries to double down on legislation against technology companies.
Member of Parliament (MP) Julian Knight, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British Parliament, made the remarks Feb. 18. He told Reuters on that day: “[This] bully boy action that [Facebook has] undertaken in Australia will, I think, ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world.”
The Conservative MP continued: “We represent people and I’m sorry, but you can’t run [a] bulldozer over that. If Facebook thinks it’ll do that, it will face the same long-term ire as the likes of Big Oil and [Big] Tobacco. Knight further described the decision by Facebook as an “attempt to bully a democracy.”
The rift between Facebook and the Australian government stemmed from proposed legislation aimed at it and its fellow Big Tech firm Google. The Land Down Under is proposing that both Facebook and Google pay news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, either through commercial deals or exclusive agreements. Because of this, the social media site said it blocked a number of pages in Australia as the draft law did not clearly define what news content was.
Facebook’s move shocked the country and established a dangerous precedent throughout the global news industry. It also exacerbated the predicament of the news industry, whose business model was flipped over by technology companies. Facebook added that its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed and it would restore pages mistakenly removed.
British news outlets have echoed Knight’s remarks against the social media giant
News outlets in the U.K. appeared to mirror the Conservative MP’s comments against Facebook.
Newsquest Media Group Chairman Henry Faure Walker said Facebook’s banning of Australian pages amid the pandemic was “a classic example of a monopoly power being the school yard bully.” He continued that Facebook was “trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.” Walker also chairs the News Media Association, the trade group for U.K. news media.
Other British news outlets voiced out their concerns regarding Facebook’s move. A MailOnline spokesman said: “So much for Facebook’s commitment to free speech. We are astonished by this inflammatory move.”
The Guardian Media Group meanwhile said it was deeply concerned by the social media site’s decision. “Dominant online platforms are now a key gateway to news and information online. We believe that public interest journalism should be as widely available as possible in order to have a healthy functioning democracy,” a spokesman for the media company said.
Knight compared the innovation and disruption brought about by American technology companies to the invention of the printing press in Europe. However, he said that the legal issue between Australia and Facebook would be one of the defining battles of the current period — calling it a “real test case.”
The Conservative MP favored using competition rules to scrutinize Big Tech firms and force them to pay for content. Knight’s suggestion appears to be gaining ground in the U.K. as the government has commissioned reviews into digital competition and news media sustainability. Some of the country’s biggest media publishers have agreed to partner with Google and Facebook. But industry sources have commented that they are pushing for more government action, emboldened by the Australian government.
The British legislator’s comments align with that of a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), a lawmaker who has been vocally opposing Big Tech censorship. Back in October 2020, the legislator from the Lone Star State slammed Big Tech censorship as crossing a threshold “that’s never been crossed before.”
Cruz’s comments followed the social media suppression of two stories ran by the New York Post about Hunter Biden’s illicit deals in foreign countries. During an interview with conservative commentator Glenn Beck, he described the censorship as “Silicon Valley oligarchs declaring the authority to determine what the press is allowed to report and who’s allowed to see it.” (Related: “What the hell is going on?” Sen. Graham and Cruz to subpoena Twitter, Facebook CEOs over New York Post censorship.)