The great debate: Facebook and Google versus the world

Just as plummeting stock markets and reduced budgets affected global economies and delivered a blow to our industry in 2008 in the form of the GFC, Google and Facebook are doing much the same 10 years later but with more direct methods. NewsMediaWorks' CEO Peter Miller explores the GFB crisis.

I was privileged recently to attend a breakfast at Advertising Week Europe. It was at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Bar in Soho. Usually when you leave Ronnie Scott’s you can’t recall your own name let alone the conversation you just had, but this was a breakfast to remember.

The stage was set for an interview which could have been viewed akin to a boxing match:

In the blue corner, David Pemsel, CEO of The Guardian.

In the multi-coloured corner, Matt Brittin, chief executive of Google UK.

The Guardian is fighting fiercely to claw its way back to break even after several years of heroic losses. In two years, it lost £100 Million. So here was Pemsel sharing the stage with a bloke whose business has shared responsibility for slowing The Guardian’s recovery.

Still, Pemsel is British and so naturally polite. His opponent was equally charming and eloquent in defending Google as the company that does no evil and tries ever so hard to stop violent nut bags, hate speakers and frauds from appearing on its sites.

Pemsel promoted his company’s performance of 100% success in hindering said hate speakers and nut bags from strutting their stuff in the pages and screens of The Guardian.

Brittin robustly defended Google’s 95% success rate – a figure he attributed to the secret algorithms not being 100% ‘on the case’.

In describing the challenge, Brittin asserted that 400 hours of content get uploaded to Google’s platforms every minute.

Let me help you out here. That’s 576,000 hours of content every 24 hours. 5% is 28,000 hours of content that the fancy algorithms might miss.

I get that the job is hard. But it’s their job, right?

Who defends a 5% miss rate as a job well done? Lift brake manufacturers? Whisky distillers? Airplane engine manufacturers?

Anyway, I still thought Matt made a compelling job of things and promoted the hiring of thousands of actual humans as the antidote to the 5% slippage.

In the news media business, we call these humans journalists and editors.

As we all know, Google and Facebook are facing increased pressure from media organisations and governments alike to establish a more even playing field for media content creators and themselves.

There are positive signs of movement, at least from Google.

Google works with publishers in many ways. Facebook is fiddling with its algorithms feverishly, but it is harder to see how this will promote actual news written by professional writers, and facts, over fake news and bulldust.

In Australia, we have the ACCC in the early stages of investigating this playing field. An issues paper has been published so that industry participants can describe their positions. Innovatively, members of the public have also been invited to contribute. These submissions will likely be published on the ACCC website and will make interesting reading during the footy season.

Reading these submissions won’t be as much fun as Ronnie Scott’s, but the issues debated for an hour on Monday will be debated for months and months, helping media organisations move towards a more level playing field.

Peter Miller is CEO of NewsMediaWorks 


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