'Dysfunctional and socially destructive': News Corp chief executive unleashes further attack on Google and Facebook

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson uses Times first page to call out duopoly

News Corp is escalating efforts to reprimand the digital duopoly of Google and Facebook with an impassioned message about the “dysfunctional and socially destructive” digital ecosystem versus the quality of authenticated news environments.

“Google’s commodification of content knowingly, willfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam. Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive,” wrote Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, in the today’s (10 April) Times newspaper.

“As for news, institutional neglect has left us perched on the edge of the slippery slope of censorship. There is no Silicon Valley tradition, as there is at great newspapers, of arguing over rights and wrongs, of fretful, thoughtful agonising over social responsibility and freedom of speech.”

Thomson has vocalised his indignation towards the online businesses over the last few years as part of a wider ploy from the publisher to premiumise its news and advertising environment at a time when those platforms have been called into question.

Meanwhile The Times has stepped up efforts to uncover malpractice on Google’s part through a series of exposés that found some of the world’s biggest household brands as well as publicly-funded companies were having their ads placed next to extreme content on YouTube, including porn sites, neofascist sites and terrorist organisations.

According to Thomson’s own source, a YouTube partner could earn about 55% of the revenue from a video. By that estimate, that means those brands are pumping millions of pounds to organisations or individuals that are “an existential threat to our societies”, he said.

But while the Times’ exposés have helped spur a mass-boycott of Google by some of the world’s biggest advertising groups and brands until the platform can assure its clients of the safety of its advertising environment, News Corp now has to convince advertisers to reallocate the millions of dollars of spend formerly set aside for Google.

For the first time, the publishing giant is using its own prime assets to send a message to readers and advertisers of the urgent need to value “authenticated authenticity”, an asset of “increasing value in an age of the artificial”, voiced Thomson in his spread.

“Understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight,” he continued.

In a message seemingly targeted more towards advertisers than its readers, Thomson lamented an advertising ecosystem that is centred around the “cynical arbitraging of ambiguity” rather than the “perfect precision” the duopoly often talk about as one of their biggest selling points.

It’s not just Google and Facebook to blame for this. Thomson, voicing earlier concerns about the role advertising agencies play in facilitating ad fraud, wrote: “Some advertising agencies are also at fault because they, too, have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.”

But even as one of the world’s top 10 media owners, owned by mogul Rupert Murdoch, News Corp knows it has no choice but to work with Google and Facebook if it has any hope of weathering the digital storm that is slowly eating away at the print medium.

“We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity. Your business model can’t be simultaneously based on both intimate, granular details about users and no clue about rather obvious pirate sites.”

Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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