Julian Knight, a Conservative MP chairs the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee which is examining the issue of online harms and disinformation, said he was “stunned” by Facebook’s “irresponsibility” and that it had exposed the company’s worrying true intentions.
Speaking exclusively to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, he urged the Australian government to hold firm against Facebook CEO’s Mark Zuckerberg’s bullying, which he described as “90 minutes of own goals – continuous.”
“I’m almost speechless actually, at the crassness of the decision, and if it does emanate from Mr Zuckerberg then I suggest to him that he ought to change his mind in double quick time because it’s unacceptable.
“It’s a massive own goal, it’s not just an own goal, it’s 90 minutes in football of soccer parlance of own goals – continous,” he said.
“It’s a massive own goal, it’s not just an own goal, it’s 90 minutes in football of soccer parlance of own goals – continuous.”
Julian Knight, a Conservative MP on Facebook’s decision
“I can’t think of any politician that won’t react in a very bad way to what Facebook has done.”
Knight said he was also “really concerned” about what the move said about Facebook’s real approach towards democratically elected governments.
“So I call on Australia to stand firm and not to give way in any respect because the truth of the matter is if they bully Australia in this, they’re going to bully everyone else so just don’t let them bully you.
Knight said Facebook’s pledge to work cooperatively with governments to ensure social media doesn’t undermine democracy following the Cambridge Analytica scandal over the Brexit campaign had been proved hollow with it’s response to the Australian government’s proposed law, which is due to be passed by the Senate in coming days.
“At the very first challenge I’m afraid they failed the test,” Knight said.
Knight said British MPs were watching “very closely” how Australia’s world-first legislation was being enacted but stopped short of endorsing the Australian-model for the UK although praised it as “brave.”
“We often find competition law is a better way for going about this,” he said.
“So I’m not strictly saying that we would copy per se what Australia has done, however, I completely respect what Australia is trying to do.”
Kevin Brennan, a Labour MP who sits on the committee said Facebook had exposed its own double standard.
“Mark Zuckerberg’s true colours have been exposed,” Brennan said.
“On one hand Facebook claims it can’t stop an Australian terrorist live-streaming a massacre but in a single change to its algorithm can cut of every Australian news organisation and a host of essential government services.
“This aggressive approach by Facebook towards Australia should serve as a warning to other countries that the market power they have acquired through the harvesting of people’s data can undermine the democratic right of nations to frame their own laws and raise their own taxes.
“The Battle of Zuckerberg is a battle to defend democracy against big tech bullying,” he said.
The case is also being watched closely in Europe. The EU has signalled it may be prepared to pursue similar measures to force the tech companies to pay for news content.
Britain has established a Digital Markets Unit to enforce a new code to govern the behaviour of Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook. However, it has not recommended making the digital companies hand over sums of cash to established media organisations.
A spokesperson for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “It is vital people can access accurate news and information from a range of sources, particularly during a global pandemic.
“We encourage Facebook and the Australian government to work together to find a solution.”
Latika Bourke is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based in London.