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I had a fairly unsettled sleep last night. After a few nights of comfortable sleep, where I felt like I was actually getting the rest I needed, I woke up with stiff muscles, a head that pulsed with the moving air of my ceiling fan, and a sense that it was going to be one of those days.
As I usually do, I checked my news notifications from the various news apps I have on my phone, seeing a brief headline about Facebook removing news from Australia, thinking that I was glad that I had these apps because otherwise I’d be lost from finding out about this news. Then I opened Facebook to see Travis Johnson’s post about his Celluloid & Whiskey page being taken down. I immediately looked at The Curb’s Facebook page, and sure enough: gone.
All my previous posts, and upcoming scheduled posts, have now disappeared into the ether thanks to a decision from a global business that has insinuated itself into our lives and changed how we live our day to day existence. I don’t need to tell you how toxic or addictive Facebook is, it’s been beaten over our heads often enough that we simply have become numb to the insidious nature it controls our lives.
The manner of how deeply reliant we are on the ‘service’ is genuinely terrifying, and while we knew it all along, today it has been laid bare in one fell swoop. This piece on The Guardian clearly outlines the level of impact the decision from Facebook to remove ‘news’ posts and the ability to post links has on our lives, with everything from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to 1800 Respect, a family violence service, being afflicted by this decision. While the internet is an ‘open’ platform, we often turn to two services to ‘find’ what we’re looking for. If it’s not on Facebook or the first page of Google, then it may as well not exist.
We chose to ignore how noxious their presence was, actively commenting on the platform itself about how horrid and destructive it was, but, even with other ‘social media’ platforms out there, we stayed firm and stuck in our place, not moving, but rather commenting on the rising muck and grime as it gradually encompassed our hips, waist, shoulders, neck, and then poured down our throats in its thick, black tar-like fashion. We were collectively like Julian Casablancas and the rest of The Strokes as they played You Only Live Once, blindly singing along as the music plays, getting deeper and deeper into an unavoidable void, consumed entirely, yet still managing to carry a tune.
To be clear, Facebook is not a service, nor is it social media, it’s a surveillance tool. It proposes itself as a helpful entity in our lives, all the while controlling what we see, when we see it, what is advertised to us, how we bought it, all the while monitoring our every move. We willing allowed this to happen (a common joke on Twitter is stating ‘I can’t believe this website is free’), and yet, we were fairly powerless to stop its spread. We can preach to ourselves about how righteous we are about not using it, or stepping away from the platform, but it’s clear with all of its nefarious means (‘shadow profiles’ for example), it’s here to stay.
It actively controls our lives, and with rising misinformation and political interference, it controls our society as well. It is akin to a political entity, a government force that pushes its will onto the people of the world.
While I could sit here and write about who was right or wrong in the debate between the Liberals decision to make tech giants like Google and Facebook pay for the news links they have on their service, the clear answer is that they’re both wrong. The Liberals big stick bullying techniques work well in their foggy mindset, but in action against two of the largest companies in the world, it’s failed. When we have Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister, using trite slogan-esque dialogue like saying that Facebook has ‘unfriended’ Australia in regards to today’s actions, well, it’s clear what kind of narrow minded bullshit we’re dealing with here. And yeah, Facebook’s defiant action of kicking the country where only 11.23 million out of its 2.89 billion users live off its service and denying them the ability to post news, or links to anything associated to news, does have a vibe of ‘sticking it to the man’, but instead of a little guy showing the big guy what’s what, this has more of a vibe of James Packer and David Gyngell fighting in the street, with stunned onlookers unable to stop what’s going on.
The message from Facebook at 530am EST, Thursday 18/02/2021, was pretty fucking clear: Australia, you do not matter.
As the news rolled out about what had happened, there was already talks of appeals processes, backdoor loops to getting links shared, with how to guides popping up telling us how we could get our ‘news’ on the service. While I appreciated the feedback and support and the guidance from my peers, there was – at times – a feeling that we were a group of junkies scratching our arms trying to find a route to what we need: an audience.
It’s not hard to see that all we want is to gain an audience and readership and to inform our readers of what culture is worthwhile paying attention to. The majority of the traffic for The Curb comes from Facebook clicks. The same goes for countless other organisations, websites, community services, charities, and more. People open up Facebook, plug in what they’re looking for, and find it that way. If not, a post will appear in their newsfeed and they might click on it.
The manner that Facebook has made itself an essential aspect of our lives is painfully evident in how people find out about pop culture, the news, or local events. If it’s not on Facebook, it may as well not exist. I’m terrified what the implications of a dominant social media platform denying a country the ability to share news or media links on its service will mean in the long term. By removing the ability to post ‘news’ links on the site, Facebook has effectively hobbled entire industries at once. Navel-gazing for a moment, I can’t help but think of the impact that this will have on the Australian arts community, already struggling after a horror year. How much harder will it be to promote shows, films, or events now that ‘news’ can no longer be posted on there?
Sure, we have Twitter, and newsletters, and a lot of us have Patreon’s too, but the manner that audiences are aware of new posts has been dominated by Facebook. For the more nostalgic and savvy readers out there, rss feeds are still a thing, and there’s countless apps and plugins that help keep you up to date with your favourite sites.
But, again, if it’s not on Facebook, it may as well not exist.
The government is still planning out how this media legislation will be implemented, and the optimists out there say that this is only temporary and things will go back to normal, but gosh fuck it, I don’t think I want to even go back to a normal where one company has a service that stokes wars in countries, allows for the live streaming of massacres, actively divides countries and influences elections, and provided a fertile ground for fake news to grow.
Earlier in the week, I’d received an email from Taboola, that advertising company that you often see on your favourite website, plugging links to dodgy websites that promise you photos of Kim Kardashian in a compromising position. They were offering The Curb a chance to have their advertising run on the site. I thought about it, weighing up the cost benefit, and figured that if I ran advertising on the site, that I’d be able to earn enough money from their dodgy ads to be able to pay writers. While I was effectively denied the chance to run such advertising on the site due to having ‘too small a readership’, I was fairly close to putting toxic advertising on the website just so I could possibly get money to pay writers.
These two events reminded me how easily accepting we are of negative and toxic behaviour from the companies we use to get word of our work out into the world. We’ve known how disgusting Facebook is as a service, yet, we use it. We know how insidious and creepy the tracking codes for Google ads and other branching companies are, but we’re effectively forced to use them to earn some money.
I don’t want to go back to a service that decides whether people get to see a link I post on The Curb’s page or not. I don’t want to go back to a place that makes getting the attention of readers a competition, where you have to effectively gamble with what kind of reach your next post will get. With over 1,200 likes on the page, it’s absurd that our posts would often only reach 200 or so followers. But, hey, if I slipped them $100, they’d make sure that those full 1,200 followers would see what I posted.
There’s a hint of the feeling that comes with every election where your political party loses, where you suddenly find yourself Googling how much it’ll cost to uproot your life and move to New Zealand, while petting your cat and drinking a stronger-than-usual G&T. We can’t just up and move to a ‘better place’, because this is the country we have to live in. Our lives are here. We have family, friends, jobs, social circles, here.
A common question raised on Facebook today was, ‘what social media platform can I move to?’, with the resounding response being ‘guess I’m going back to MySpace’. We’re all so eager to move to something different, something more… ethical… something that allows us to share news, but in so many ways, like an abusive partner, Facebook is our home. Our lives are there. We don’t want them to be, but it’s how our society has been shaped.
Move away from Facebook, and you suddenly stop being able to see pictures of your family, or friends, or stay in contact with that nice person you only know online who lives overseas. We say that we will email, or contact each other, but without that feedback loop of the continually refreshing news feed, do we even do that? We crave staying up to date and being informed, with Facebook being the virtual water cooler we all need to chat about life and its appendages.
Look, I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward here. My immediate feeling upon seeing years of posts and communications and feedback from supporters of The Curb just… disappear… was one of abject failure. I felt like everything I’d been working on, building up, and establishing, had just amounted to nought. Now, the site’s not going anywhere, and I’ve calmed my mind after that initial strike of fear. I just honestly doubt that even if The Curb’s Facebook page is reinstated that I want to actually post on there.
This… this right here feels like the last straw. I’m well aware that the point to jump ship has been presented to me, and everyone else on Facebook, time and time again. The rise of the far right, the increasing social divide stoked by fake news and conspiracy theories, the destruction of families because of horrifying anti-vacc beliefs, gosh, the list goes on. But, when you run a website or have an online presence, it becomes essential to have a presence on Facebook.
Once again, if it’s not on Facebook, it may as well not exist.
But I’m only human, and I’m only trying to create a supportive, informative, and helpful website. Facebook has clearly only seen us as a source of passive income, desperate figures scrambling for an audience, and scrounging to pay for attention. I can’t stand by that kind of behaviour anymore.
I now have to adjust myself to the new reality that my readership has just dramatically dropped in a flash, and that the struggles of trying to get the writing of myself and my fellow writers out to an audience has reduced substantially.
Ironically, this all came about because of the Australian government forcing Facebook and Google to pay for media outlets when linking to websites. To break this down in as blunt a fashion, let me borrow long time supporter of the site Tim Leggoe’s post about this:
Facebook has been a perfect means of free advertising for all media outlets in Australia. Big and small. Post a story, or even better get someone to share it with their friends… get the clicks through to your website and get the ad revenue.
Murdoch decided that Morrison hadn’t provided him with enough free taxpayers money this year, so they set up a grift where Murdoch would post an article on Facebook (ie put up an ad for their website) and then demand Facebook pay them money for the right to display the ad that Murdoch had placed. Morrison was so super clever with the definition of “news” that it included basically everything from blogs to critical emergency information.
So when Facebook said “we’re not paying you to place ads on our platform”. Every media outlet in this country, big and small has had to pay the price for this ridiculous grift.
If you had a trusted website (particularly an independent one) that you visited or supported. Save the link to your phone and check in on them regularly. They will be suffering from this.
Yes, the government should take on a lot of the blame too, but we know that, and we know this about Facebook as well.
Anyhow, as always, going forward, support your independent websites. Champion what they’re working on. Most of us have Patreon pages that have a support level of $1 a month. I’ll keep rattling the can, but that $1 means a lot in the grand scheme of things. We’re not so lucky. We didn’t get a $30 million agreement with Google. I know it’s not all about the money, but it does help.
I said it earlier, but again, set up an rss feed account and follow sites you read there.
I’m so exhausted by all of this. Exhausted by continually trying to get the attention of an audience that I know is there. I know they read the site, and enjoy the writing. But these ‘platforms’, these ‘social media’ groups, obfuscate everything to the point of frustration. I hope you’ll join me and the rest of the writers here on this sisyphean task.
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