Mark Zuckerberg – From Super Geek to Super Villain

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.  What better way to fend off accusations that you have way too much power than by exercising it as capriciously as possible?  Like Mr. Burns blocking the sun over Springfield, Facebook decided to make their point as obnoxiously as possible by taking the ‘Pearl Harbour’ approach and disconnecting not only news feeds but anything that stood in its way.  If the goal was to make everyone hate Facebook, they succeeded admirably.

It’s breathtaking how disconnected from consequence Facebook are.  That they were happy to impact not just news organizations but hospitals, government departments, charities and support groups is a pretty spectacular form of skullduggery.  Even when they apologized, it came with the kicker that it was really our fault because the term ‘news’ could be interpreted broadly.  That is, having made a mistake up there with building the Titanic out of fly wire, they still couldn’t concede they were wrong. This should worry everyone.

I’ll admit that Facebook’s cyber-tantrum had little impact on me.  I don’t have a Facebook account and get my news from, well, news sources.  I have, however, seen the first ten minutes of ‘The Social Network’ so I feel more than qualified to comment on recent events.  Better yet, I’ve also seen ‘Star Wars’.  I’m not referring to the abominable prequels or the more recent evidence (if it were needed) of the immutable law of diminishing returns. I’m talking about the original Star Wars series in all its bowl haircut glory.  In ‘Star Wars’ terms, what Facebook tried to pull off was its ‘fully operational Death Star moment’.  

I guess that makes Mark Zuckerberg Emperor Palpatine.  If there were any lingering doubt as to Mark’s transition to the dark side of the Force, it’s long gone now.  Instead of conforming to the laws of the country in which they operate, companies like Facebook act like Empires or (more specifically) theEmpire; blowing up planets, killing Ewoks and throwing Luke Skywalker down a set of stairs.  Nasty stuff.  We should abandon the idea that companies like Facebook are going to behave the way we expect them to.  They won’t.  Take tax as an example.

In 2019, Google paid almost $100 million in tax in Australia.  I know this, because I Googled it.  (Touché!)  It sounds like a lot until you learn that this amount was paid on $4.8 billion in revenue.  The reason they pay so little tax as against their colossal revenue is that they attribute most of it to Singapore.  Perhaps they’re confused and think that Singapore is just outside of Moorooduc, but I’m pretty sure that ‘Google Maps’ would clear that up quick smart.

Facebook is no different.  In 2019, it paid $16.8 million in income tax based on revenue of $167 million.  Or, in other words, a hefty ten cents on the dollar.  It is, of course, more complicated than that – but it gets worse.  The amount of advertising booked exceeded $670 million but most of this isn’t counted towards its tax.  That’s because Facebook categorizes itself as a ‘reseller’ of advertising services.  I don’t know exactly what this means but I suspect it’s a bit like trying to reduce your tax bill by categorizing yourself as a turnip.  It works right up until it doesn’t.

 Facebook, Google and other digital giants have been feuding with Governments the world over about the amount of tax they do or, more to the point, don’t pay.  That will (eventually) sort itself out.  But when Facebook decided to pull the plug in protest against a proposed law that was before Parliament, they went from global mega-corporation to full-on super-villain.  Whilst a lot of people have expressed shock, I wasn’t surprised.  My only question is: what next?

Now that we’re all on the Facebook ‘naughty’ list, it’s hard to know what kind of dastardly action Mark Zuckerberg will take as ‘Project Mayhem’ goes into full swing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if Facebook soldered all the shopping trolleys together at the local Woolies before repainting all the parking bays so no one can open their car door.  It’s inevitable that they’ll campaign to kick us out of the Eurovision Song Contest because Australia is not in Europe (they know something about geography when it suits them). Perhaps they’ll set up one of their signature ‘fake news’ pages that claims that the Pavlova was invented in New Zealand and not Australia.  Having reached the bottom of the barrel, it’s clear that Facebook are determined to keep digging.  There is no depth to which they won’t sink.

Don’t get me wrong – Facebook has achieved plenty: it broke democracy for starters.  But Mark has well and truly jumped the shark this time.  The next time we see him, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was wearing a turtleneck and stroking a hairless cat.  That’s once he gets back from his weekend playing ‘Pokemon Go’ with Kim Jong Un, of course.  Mark, when you read this, take a long hard look at yourself.  Unfriend yourself on Facebook if needs be. And then come back to the world where paying for things like content and tax are highly valued.  If and when you’re willing to do those things, then consider this my ‘friend’ request.

Reflections on the End of the World – Part Three

Last night I saw the shorts for the new film featuring Gerard Butler. Called ‘Greendale’, it’s one of those calamitously noisy films about the impending end of human kind.  I can’t say for sure what kicked it all off, but the footage showed human beings as they crawled over each other in a quest for survival.  Doubtless the studio will describe this as an edge of your seat adventure set against the backdrop of human misery and a looming apocalypse.  It does nothing for me.  In fact, after the past year, I wouldn’t describe scenes of desperate humans struggling to survive as ‘entertainment’.  I’d call it ‘Tuesday’.  Or, for that matter, pretty much any day of the week over the past year.

I’ve learned a lot since the pandemic arrived.  Mostly I discovered that hand sanitizer is a wily beast that’s not going to leave the nozzle the way you expect it to.  It might come out sideways, slantways or – if you’re not careful – creep up behind you when you least expect it and tap you on the shoulder before asking directions for the nearest pair of hands.  Surely there’s a list of all the hand-sanitizer related injuries of the past year, where the unpredictable liquid has made a beeline for the eyes of some poor hapless soul.  Never have I been more relieved to wear glasses than I have during hand sanitizer’s reign of terror.  

A lot of people have acquired a new skill whilst stuck at home.  A new language, a musical instrument – there’s been no end to the challenges people have taken on.  I, on the other hand, have gone the other way in that seemed to have forgotten how to drive. Last week, I sat behind the wheel for twenty minutes, unsure of what to do and waiting for a ‘zoom’ meeting to start.  That said, I have mastered the art of making coleslaw.  Granted, this is a skill that many others take for granted, but I really wanted to get it right.  It’s not going to help me much when – at some point in the presumably distant future – I land on the shore of some far-off country and people start speaking to me in a language I don’t understand.  It’ll do me little good when all I have to offer them is a weak smile and a bowl of chopped up cabbage.

My father has not acquired a new skill during these uncertain times.  Instead of learning Latin or mastering the lute, he used his lockdown to chop firewood.  He’s currently eighty-one years old.  Based on the quantity of firewood my father has chopped up, I’d say he’s planning to live to around one hundred and seventy.  It’s probably the first woodpile that can be seen from space.  I guess he’s being practical, but I’m beginning to regret buying him his own personalized lute for his eightieth.

I’ve learned that a dog really is your best friend.  As one of the wholly sanctioned options for leaving the house, our dog provided one of the few legitimate means by which to socialize with other human beings.  The ability to go to the park with the dog and see other people; to commiserate, encourage and generally be around in a socially distant way, was profoundly important. Other pets couldn’t compete. That said, I did see one brave soul attempting to take his cat for a walk.  It is fair to say that the cat objected to the leash and was being ‘uncooperative’.

The songwriter, Bill Fay, once sang; ‘Life is people’.  I think that’s true.  I also think that lockdown really made that clear.  I missed seeing members of my family.  Even though I feel I never see them enough, extended periods of not seeing them at all served only to emphasize their importance to me.  Work colleagues too. A zoom meeting is well and good, but is not substitute for seeing people in person.  

Now here we are in another lockdown, albeit of the ‘snap’ variety.  I’m sure it’ll be short and am confident that it’s for a good reason, but suspect that no-one in Melbourne can even hear the word ‘lockdown’ without a slight chill running down their back.  It feels too soon to go back there.  Lockdown 3.0 carries with it a sense of resignation. Like most sequels, there is a sense of diminishing returns – the adherence to wearing a mask has, much like the mask itself, slipped a little.

Two weeks ago, I was at my father’s house in Tyabb.  There was noise movement and kids were scattered everywhere.  My father made sure everyone had their picture taken in front of the woodpile he’d built, arguing that if it was good enough for the ‘Big Banana’, it was good enough to the ‘Big Woodpile’.  In my photo, I’m grinning and giving a big-old cheesy thumbs up.  As you do.  

I’m yet to watch that Gerard Butler film.  Presumably there’s a scene where he scarpers down to Woollies in search of toilet paper only to the find that there’s not a roll of two-ply Sorbent left anywhere. This, of course, makes no sense in that surely the people who hoarded the bog roll in the first two lockdowns have enough to last them to 2050.  Gerard will take matters into his own hands when he learns he can only get one packet of mince.  I think I’ll ignore that movie for the time being and find something more uplifting.  Lord knows we need it. At the very least, I have pictures of the world’s biggest woodpile to take my mind off things.