Australian media watchdog to investigate Google and Facebook

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Google search on mobile. Image: TY Lim/Shutterstock

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Google and Facebook will be subject to an inquiry around the impact of digital platforms on news media in Australia.

In recent years, the influence of major firms such as Facebook and Google on global politics and public sentiment has become increasingly obvious.

Tense social and political issues have played out on our Facebook feeds and Google search results pages, which is why the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced today (4 December) that it is to launch an inquiry to examine just how much these tech giants have impacted on advertising and journalism in the country.

How are tech giants affecting the news and ads we consume?

The Australian government has directed the ACCC to examine how search engines, social media platforms and content-aggregation platforms are affecting competition in media and advertising markets.

Chair of the ACCC, Rod Sims, said the body would be going into the inquiry “with an open mind and will study how digital platforms like Facebook and Google operate to fully understand their influence in Australia”.

The ACCC is to examine longer-term trends to get a view of the effects of technological change on competition in the industries. “We will also consider the impact of information asymmetry between digital platform providers and advertisers and consumers,” Sims said.

The inquiry is being held under the Competition and Consumer Act of 2010, which means the ACCC can use its compulsory information-gathering powers and hold hearings.

ACCC seeking feedback across the media industry

Sims added that the body is seeking out the views of “content creators, mainstream media outlets, and smaller media operators, platform providers, advertisers, journalists, consumers and small business interest groups”.

A preliminary report will be delivered in December 2018, with a full report expected in June 2019.

The investigation was ordered by the government in Australia amid growing worries over job cuts in the media sectors, the rise of unreliable ‘fake news’ stories and platforms, and the use of paid online advertising models to peddle misinformation and propaganda, particularly when it comes to polarising social and political issues.

Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have come in for some criticism around the use of their tools to spread misinformation, and have been responding with increased content vetting and tighter advertising regulations, among other initiatives.

Google search on mobile. Image: TY Lim/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam is a writer covering all manner of business and tech subjects

editorial@siliconrepublic.com