ScoMo vs Zuck: clash of the incels

"From hell's heart I stab at thee" – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. File photo.

The Sentinel casts a (somewhat) jaded eye over Facebook’s decision to ban news – and as our PM and another powerful world leader square off, we ask: which android will blink first?

Last week, as you’ve probably heard, Facebook banned news for Australian users.

It was a response to a proposed law which would make tech giants pay for news content on their platforms. At a practical level, this was mildly annoying – especially for us fledgling media outlets who depend on our Facebook followers.

Of course, we also realised – once we stopped weeping – the issue also spoke, existentially, to the power of the tech oligarch.

Mark Zuckerberg, the cod-eyed genius whose platform inspires your aunty to make low-key racist statements to all fifty of her friends, has asserted some status. By way of perspective, we’re talking levels of influence that would put the captain of the Australian cricket team in the shade.

And unfortunately, as we reported, the Sentinel was caught up in the fray (which, yes, we resentfully interpreted as a personal attack rather than some algorithmic hocus-pocus).

There was some irony that the master of confusing an issue – any issue – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, would be our champion.   

Our hero, Scott Morrison. File photo.

After all, it wasn’t a good week for the guy on the subject of misinformation.

And yet, in this instance, he was quick to respond (via Facebook!) with some strongly worded bitching – along with a judiciously placed dad joke (on brand, mate). 

“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” he said.

It helped, of course, that Uncle Rupert was in Morrison’s corner to back him up – while providing more irony on the subject of misinformation.

Still, we haven’t felt this boisterous about our former leader since Tony Abbott notified Putin that he existed by unaccountably offering to do his laundry. Or something.

Nutbag tries to start a fight with another nutbag. Video: ABC News/YouTube.

“We’re not going to be intimidated,” Scott said, by way of emulating Tony. But then if you say that, you’re kinda giving the game away, right?

Jokes aside, the issue does point to some salient details that should concern everyone. For a start, Zuckerberg seems to have a degree of power undue to a fellow who looks and acts like he regularly wallpapers his home with hitchhiker skin.

As Marina Hyde in The Guardian pointed out, it’s quite weird to think that a platform originally designed by a sociopathic incel to rate women in his dorm, now has the heft to get a Prime Minister to put his beer down and take notice.

The fact that the news ban occurred a few days before Australia’s coronavirus vaccine roll-out began, only emphasised the point. “This is going to make misinformation on the platform significantly worse,” said Belinda Barnet, from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne.

Worse?

That such an enterprise – with evidently no conscience to the insidious and toxic content it propagates – should have acquired this level of influence, is at the very least a bit worrying.

And it’s even more disturbing when you consider exactly how Facebook wields this influence, according to this article – which gives a bit of insight into the way the platform helps weaponise right-wing conspiracies and hate speech.

Still, let’s be honest here – we play the game. We have to. The Sentinel – as with a million other media entities – depend(ed) on our Facebook followers.

We’re not proud – it’s a little like rolling into McDonald’s at 1am after a big night and asking for a Happy Meal … but that’s the power of these corporations, there’s nowhere else to go.

We recommend you relax on the subject. After all, the significance of Facebook is so pervasive – so all-encompassing – that it really can’t lose.

And the answer to the rhetorical question in our somewhat humorous subheading is, of course: Scott Morrison will. After all, being a daggy boomer, his account probably takes up most of his time.

Still, in the absence of the Sentinel, we recommend deleting your account. What else is there – your aunt’s QAnon theory about pedophile vampires? But don’t tell Zuckerberg we told you that. We don’t want to annoy him.

Richie Black is the deputy editor of the Sydney Sentinel.