We have been shocked by Facebook’s Australian news ban because we have been labouring under a misapprehension: We thought it was a public utility.
It was conceived as a utility (for Harvard University students) and founder Mark Zuckerberg has been masterful in characterising the platform as a democratic space since it moved beyond the ivy league university community to embrace ordinary folk like you and me.
The generic term ‘social media platform’ lends further weight to the perception that it is like a digital version of the companies that supply our electricity and phone services. We see it as a multimedia replacement for yesterday’s mail and landline.
So, when the company suddenly cut Australian news media sources – and, temporarily, weather and some emergency services – the shock didn’t stop at the continent’s vast shoreline. Many countries asked, ‘How could this possibly happen?’
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, is litigious – multiple simultaneous actions against media attest to that. Her latest ‘win’, however, is a useful wake-up call for all journalists.
A pre-trial judgment against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday in the UK has provided an unequivocal marker on how editors should treat private correspondence that falls into their hands.
Sir Mark Warby last week allowed a strike out claim and found in favour of the Duchess in an action she brought against Associated Newspapers over publication of the contents of a hand-written letter she sent to her father. Mr Justice Warby was in absolutely no doubt about the contents of her deeply personal letter being revealed in a WORLD EXCLUSIVE in the London tabloid. “Taken as a whole,” the judge said, “the disclosures were manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.
Last Tuesday, the Dominion Post carried a page 3 brief in which it stated that two opinion columns published by the newspaper last year had been removed from its website after it found they had been paid for by a third party.