Senate powerbroker Nick Xenophon has accused Facebook of not acting fast enough to stamp out fake news during a spirited encounter with the social media giant’s Australian representatives.
In exasperated exchanges with Facebook officials on Tuesday, Senator Xenophon questioned how an organisation famous for its mantra of “move fast and break things” had failed to combat the rise of fake news articles on its platform.
Fronting a parliamentary inquiry into the future of journalism and the impact tech behemoths Google and Facebook have had on the Australian media industry, Facebook Australia representatives Aine Kerr and Mia Garlick struggled to explain why the platform had not found a solution to the global problem.
Fake news is considered to be any inaccurate or sensationalist article that seeks to mislead, or misrepresent a person or event, to help push a certain agenda.
Senator Xenophon said he didn’t understand why the company could not give an end date to a pilot program it started in December in the United States and parts of Europe to help prevent fake news, nor announce when it would expand it across the globe.
“???I say this as a compliment – you do move fast, you do break things, but here you are taking a very conservative, cautious approach which is damaging the integrity of news,” Senator Xenophon said.
The pilot program – in which Facebook works with established fact checking organisations – was just “one layer” of the organisation’s plan to combat an issue that rose to prominence in the recent US election.
But Ms Garlick could not say how many pages Facebook, which has 15 million users in Australia, had removed or shut down for breaching its guidelines. She said the company was primarily focused on monitoring the “behaviour” of its pages, rather than the content.
The Facebook representatives did not give dates on plans for its beta subscription model, which has been mooted as a tool to better address publishers’ concerns over how Facebook uses their media content.
Global search engine giant, Google was also hauled into the committee to explain how it handled fake news, and its use of established media companies’ content.
Google Australia managing director Jason Pellegrino was forced to defend the organisation’s market power after Senator Xenophon accused the company of “abusing it”.
“Publishers have choice in the operating model they choose,” Mr Pellegrino said.
But the search engine could not say how big its Australian market share was, only saying it was not a “metric we use to run our business”.
Both organisations said they were supporters of journalism and actively working to fight fake news, as they considered it counter-productive to their own purposes.
The committee will hand down its findings at the end of the year.
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