19 February 2021

Lizzie O’Shea: “The media code aims to solve a public problem — the decline of the fourth estate — by setting up a system of private transfers between digital platforms and news organisations. Such an approach harbours several design problems. Firstly, it represents an abandonment of the democratic political practice of taxation and spending. That strategy might have allowed elected representatives to strip tech companies of their excessive profits, which is an important objective. It would have also permitted lawmakers to redirect such funds to fill the actual gaps that have emerged in the media in recent times, rather than, say, Rupert Murdoch’s pockets. … The other key design problem with the proposed code was that it aimed to align media organisation and tech platforms against the interests of users. Media organisations have demonstrated that they are perfectly fine with exploiting user data for ad dollars, so long as they are not left out of the game. What does it say about tech policy in this country that the human rights of users were almost entirely left out of the conversation? … Imagine if the government had shown instead an interest in facilitating public participation and community-building by supporting other platforms that were not driven by profit. … It would be a world in which Facebook doesn’t get to dictate the terms of our engagement in online life.”