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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Damn it... I support Facebook

19 February 2021

Oh how I wish I was a younger man.

Back in 1997 I created 7am News, a ground-breaking website and Java-based news distribution service that rattled cages around the world.

Some little up-start working from a broom-closet sized office in rural New Zealand, using little more than a couple of dial-up internet connections was challenging the big players in the news industry and winning.

I think it's fair to say that the issues raised by 7am's use of hyperlinks to web-based news services are still raging today... in the form of the fight that's taking place between major news publishers and the tech-giants of today.

Back in 1997 those news publishers were making all sorts of threats against me for daring to link to their news stories but I stood my ground and won.

Things are a bit different today though.

In a growing number of countries around the world, governments are siding with the still powerful news media in an attempt to force the likes of Google, Facebook, etc to pay a fee for linking to the dross spat out by the news barons.

The likes of Rupert Murdoch are outraged that Google can use his content for free -- and even worse, make money from it.

As I've pointed out numerous times in the past, Murdoch's whinging is so fake.

If Murdoch (or any other news publisher) doesn't want Google to link to its stories then they could simply pay me ONE MILLION DOLLARS to show them how the robots.txt file works on their webserver.

Facebook is in a slightly different position however. As far as I am aware (and be advised that I'm not a heavy user of Facebook so I could be wrong), it doesn't link to news stories itself -- but it does have users that frequently do.

The Australian government is telling the likes of Google and Facebook that if they want to link to Aussie news sites then they'll have to pay for the privilege. Perhaps someone should tell the Aussies how the world wide web works and why one of the basic tenets of its existance is the free use of such hypertext links.

The response of tech giants has been very interesting to watch.

Google first responded by threatening to withdraw its search services from Australia -- something that seems to have become a rather hollow threat of late, the company instead prefering to strike deals... as they did in France.

Facebook however, has gone on the offensive and is blocking any links to Australian news websites.

Bloody good job Facebook!

I'm no FB fanboi, in fact I'm hardly even a "user", except under duress. However, I fully support Facebook blocking those sites as a protest against a government that would seek to unilaterally alter the way the web works.

Sure, Facebook *is* benefitting from the links posted to such stories by its users -- but then again, so are the news sites. And, if those sites really didn't want the traffic, they could simply block those links by disallowing anyone being referred from the facebook.com domain.

The power to disable traffic from Google, Facebook or any other site is totally in the hands of the news sites but, instead of simply acting to stop that traffic, they'd rather whinge and whine about it -- in the expectation of being paid and unbalancing the value-exchange that is the WWW.

I said at the beginning of this column that I wished I was a younger man. Why?

Simple, I'd start a web-based Australian news service right here in NZ.

I'd subscribe to all the Aussie dailies (so as to get behind their paywalls) and then hire a team of team young "rewriters" to spit out stories based on the *facts* from those Aussie dailies.

Copyright infringement?

No it's not... facts can't be copyrighted. I'm pretty sure that the ad-revenues that could be earned from getting all those Facebook links from Aussie FBers would more than cover the wage bill and create a healthy operating profit. The only losers would be the Rupert Murdoch and his greedy mates.

Sadly, I *am* too old to do this (although I remain sorely tempted) and I'm pretty sure that the window would be a short one because once they saw what was happening, all those Aussie news organisations would soon decide that maybe those links from FB weren't such a bad thing after all and withdraw their demands for payment. At that time of course, FB would remove the block and the Kiwi "Aussie News" service would no longer be viable.

Ah... but it would be *so* much fun in the meantime :-)

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