Ex-Google staffer calls for regulation of big tech to fund journalism
“The Fourth Estate has been progressively hollowed out by these large tech platforms which have profited off the demise and the clickbaitification of news and journalism,” he said. “That is something that has to get fixed and I think we need a more global solution to that problem.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has proposed a code giving Google and Facebook three months to negotiate revenue-sharing deals with media companies, and Mr Harris said this could be applied around the world.
He said companies such as Google, with a market capitalisation of $US1 trillion, and Facebook, which is valued at $US774 billion, were some of the “richest and most profitable companies in history” and some of these profits should be used to fund journalism.
“We can’t just pay, put some of the money back,” he said. “We actually have to have a new system in which we’re competing to revitalise journalism, as opposed to we compete to extract and hollow out and then we give some money back at the end. That’s not really a viable model.”
Mr Harris said journalism needed to be financed globally in a lasting and sustainable way.
“Starting from and sustaining a lasting Fourth Estate that is keeping our governments in check, including these companies,” he said. “That’s what we really need. Without it we’re going to be lost.”
In The Social Dilemma Mr Harris describes technology as “a simultaneous utopia and dystopia”, and says while he is not anti-technology the business model of the big technology companies needs to change.
Mr Harris said regulation has “a crucial role” to play rather than attempting to ban social media platforms.
“Let’s imagine we take our huge whack-a-mole stick, and we don’t just whack individual problems like QAnon, fake news or something like that,” he said. “We take a whack-a-mole stick and we actually whack all of Facebook or we whack all of TikTok and we got rid of them. Well, what happens if you still have a business model that incentivises attention-seeking narcissism, addiction, distraction, polarisation and disinformation? We’re just going to have new services come in and do the exact same things because it’s the most profitable thing to do.”
Mr Harris said government was needed to “set the guard rails of competition”, otherwise it was a race to the bottom, and this could be done on a global basis.
He said while The Social Dilemma has been criticised for focusing on male, white tech insiders, this was a feature of the lack of diversity in the technology sector at the time the products were built.
“No one in the film says, ‘Hey listen to us white tech bros to tell you what the answer is’,” he said. “It’s saying we actually have a huge problem and we need a whole-of-society solution. We need a collaboration between civil society groups, between governments and between the public and the collective will of the public to make that change happen.”
Cara is the small business editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne