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Time to regulate social media companies

China Daily | Updated: 2021-02-23 07:37
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FILE PHOTO: A woman looks at the Facebook logo on an iPad in this photo illustration taken June 3, 2018.[Photo/Agencies]

In response to a piece of legislation proposed by the Australian government that platform companies must pay news publishers for using content, Facebook started restricting the posting of news links and all posts from news pages in Australia on Feb 17. Moreover, according to the company, posting and sharing of news links from Australian publications on Facebook is now globally restricted.

The decision is arguably the most restrictive move the social media company has taken against content publishers from a single country, thus affecting some basic public services in Australia, such as information published by public health and emergency response agencies. The tensions between the two sides show a common challenge confronting the world, that is to what extent should platform companies be restricted and regulated to make sure they do not take advantage of their monopoly and harm public interests.

Facebook's decision and its influence have often invited strong backlash around the world, as the people see it as a typical example of how tech companies exercise their monopoly to bully the public.

For too long, US-based internet giants, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and Amazon, have been playing a role as vanguards of digital capitalism. Escorted by the hegemony of the United States, they have penetrated deeply into global public, commercial and private domains, making countries part of the US' digital capitalist "colony". Even the US' allies, such as Australia, cannot exempt themselves from being exploited.

That a company has the audacity to openly put its own profits before public interests, and even challenge the government of a sovereign country indicates the new challenges before the world in the digital era.

Neither side appears to be ready to throw in the towel. Given the more than 10 million Australian Facebook users' appeals, the two sides might try to settle the disputes through negotiations.

As such, we should no longer see these platform companies as common enterprises, as they are nothing but strategic resources and infrastructural facilities concerning national and public interests, and have huge impacts on national, financial and information security, and social stability issues.

So it is time for the world to come together to think how to regulate, and supervise these giant companies in case they abuse their dominance to fulfill their narrow business goals.

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