The brewing, mostly political controversy over whether big social media networks should be treated as platforms, as they have been until now – or as publishers, going forward, doesn't seem to be going away. In fact, it is spreading beyond the United States.
In the US, there have been arguments both in favor and against such a move, that would require changes to the country's Communications Decency Act (CDA), specifically the law's Section 230. Tech companies are strongly opposed to being treated as publishers, considering that current rules provide them with legal protections when it comes to content users, i.e., third parties, publish on their platforms.
In Australia, the criticism of Big Tech has for the most part been colored with the government's need to protect big traditional publishers and media outlets, who have been steadily losing monetizing ground to the likes of Google and Facebook.
It is from this angle that Australia's Attorney-General Christian Porter has spoken in favor of social media behemoths being “treated” like publishers – all in the name of creating “a fair media playing field.”
Porter shared his thoughts on this subject during an address at the National Press Club dedicated to reform of defamation and whistleblower laws.
The way the Australian official tied the two topics in was to mention a case where media companies have been found liable for defamatory content made in the comments posted on their Facebook pages.
Porter seems to think that instead, in the Voller vs. Nationwide News & Ors, Facebook should have been the entity held responsible as the publisher. At least, the attorney-general argued, this would be the case if there was “a level playing field” between social media giants and traditional publishers.
These comments come as the Australian government is yet to provide its response to a report from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that in July urged for more regulation of social networks.
These recommendations once again pertained to protecting news outlets and their business, calling for “transparency on ad algorithms” and revenue sharing – but also mentioned the need for regulatory action regarding misinformation, and the degree of control users have over their data.