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.