‘Social media giants profit from evil’: Michael Miller addresses National Press Club of Australia

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The technology monopolies – especially social networks like Meta, TikTok and X – operate decidedly outside our legal system.

In just one generation we have gone from magic to madness.

Remember when we discovered the search function and realized we could find out everything we wanted to know with the click of a mouse? Remember when our phones became smart? When we started sharing photos and memories? Remember our first video calls with family we hadn’t seen in years?

That was before online fraud and blackmail, before cyberbullying and revenge porn, before doxxing and trolling, deep fakes and conspiracies, before the surveillance economy and political interference, before terrorists live-streaming massacres and websites celebrating anorexia as a glamorous lifestyle, before the epidemic of loneliness and anxiety, before algorithms turned us into addicts.

A recent study in Australia surveyed 3,000 social media users about their digital lives and attitudes. Seven out of ten said that they or someone they know had had negative experiences on social media.

The number is even higher for teenagers. There is no doubt that our children are paying the price. And so is our economy. The National Anti-Scam Centre reports that Australians lost $2.7 billion to scams last year.

False and disinformation intended to cause real harm also lead people down dangerous algorithmic wrong paths. Western Australian newspapers reported in March on the unprecedented explosion of child sexual exploitation online, with 32 million reports on major platforms each year.

And that’s just the tip of a very large iceberg.

Cybersecurity Minister Clare O’Neil put it this way: “Almost every problem we have as a country is either exacerbated or caused by social media, and we don’t see the slightest impression that these companies are taking responsibility for it.”

So why does this happen?

Because on social media, bad behavior is good for business. Social media giants profit from mean videos, bullying, scammers, and the glorification of eating disorders.

As one British father who lost his child to suicide put it: “They are making money out of misery.”

In the case of Meta, this profit amounts to an incredible $136 million per day, according to a recent report by the British Sunday Times Magazine.

With Meta’s decision to withdraw from its agreement to pay Australian news organizations for their content, our industry is once again entering uncharted territory.

After Meta shut down the news in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented that Meta was “putting profits over safety” while devastating wildfires forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes without access to news.

We must not be intimidated by this scenario unfolding in Australia.

Meta must be designated under the Media Bargaining Code and required to negotiate in good faith.

However, this current struggle in my industry is part of a much larger struggle, a struggle that will encompass and impact more industries and more people.

As a nation, we cannot blink now.

America has already given the tech industry the ultimate free pass when it granted tech companies a blanket legal exemption from liability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, creating a “Silicon Valley sovereignty” that now lets them get away with anything.

It is time to stop asking for change and start demanding change.

The term “social license” describes the permission that companies have to operate within a society. Technology monopolies should also have to pay a license.

The license should require that each platform have an effective system for handling consumer complaints.

Other measures to be considered in this license should be:

The ex ante competition framework established by the ACCC aims to solve the problem of monopolised digital advertising markets.

A contribution to the resources we spend on tackling mental health problems.

One requirement for technology platforms that emerge as essential trading partners of the media would be that they comply with the Media Bargaining Code agreements for larger publishers and contribute to a fund for small publishers serving local communities.

And penalties?

Penalties include criminal penalties for companies that agree to the license but then violate the rules.

And ultimately, the power to block access to our country and our people if they refuse to follow our rules.

Australians overwhelmingly believe that social media should be subject to the same rules as the rest of us, with 83 percent agreeing that tech monopolies should be subject to Australian regulations and laws.

It’s time for a digital environment that protects vulnerable people instead of exploiting them.

It is time to protect our children, our parents and our national identity.

It’s time for technology monopolies to play by Australian rules.

It’s time for a reset.

*This is an edited transcript of Michael Miller’s speech to the National Press Club.

Originally published as ‘Social media giants profit from evil’: Michael Miller speaks to the National Press Club of Australia

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