Splice News media trends: EU crackdowns, Al Jazeera and Facebook hits 2 billion users

As a leading light of the commentariat in Asia, newsroom consultant and former alumnus of Yahoo, CNBC and Bloomberg, Alan Soon knows a thing or two about the media. Here is his roundup of developments inside the bubble this week


Google was slapped with a record $2.7 billion fine by the European Commission for using its search dominance to favour its own products. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation.” Google has 90 days to respond to a list of demands, or face penalties of up to 5% of Alphabet’s (Google’s parent) average daily global revenue. Staggering.

…Stratechery’s Ben Thompson picked apart the Commission’s argument. He questioned the definition of what makes a “competitive” product — is this about protecting consumers from price increases, or going after companies that restrict competition? “Antitrust advocates have to appreciate that when it comes to digital monopolies, there is a very fine line to walk between opposing products that are better for consumers and promoting competition.”

This has massive implications (and complications). Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against Google, agreeing with a provincial judge who ordered Google to scrub search results about pirated products in Canada and the rest of the world. Civil liberties groups say this sets the precedent for judges anywhere to issue a global ban on what appears in Google’s search results.

This is a big one that didn’t make it into last week’s newsletter: China banned live streaming services on three major online platforms — Weibo, Feng and ACFUN. Just like that… because it knows it can’t censor live streams.

The Arab states running the diplomatic blockade against Qatar are demanding (among other things) that it shut Al Jazeera as well as other Qatari-funded media outlets. “If the demand was to stop hate speech or incitement to violence, it might be better understood. But this is a blanket insistence on closing the network.” Qatar rejected the demands.

Australia is looking for international support in pressuring tech companies on encrypted chat apps used by terrorists and criminals. It’s putting the issue on the agenda at an upcoming “Five Eyes” meeting with the U.S., Britain, Canada and New Zealand. “These discussions will focus on the need to cooperate with service providers to ensure reasonable assistance is provided to law enforcement and security agencies.”

Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter announced a partnership aimed at curbing the use of internet services by terrorists. The four will collaborate on tech solutions, share content classification techniques and reporting methods.


Facebook has been on a charm offensive to tell the media world that it actually cares about the industry. Some are calling bullshit. Digiday has a damning report on the Facebook media partnerships team. “Facebook hires nice people to say nice things to us.”

…Salon’s traffic and revenue collapsed when Facebook tweaked its algo last year. “If you’re running a business, you have to be very careful about building your business on top of other platforms. At the end of the day, something can happen that’s out of your control.”

Facebook apparently shut more than 30 accounts used by the “fake news teens” in Macedonia. It wasn’t just the news stuff — they’ve also lost their seemingly lucrative pages about horses, motorcycles and muscle cars. “I’m in a very inappropriate situation, after spending a huge amount of money on Facebook for promoting articles and Page likes. In end all have got is unpublished page [sic].”

ProPublic looked into Facebook’s internal documents to understand how the algorithm distinguishes between hate speech and legit political expression. It protects white men from hate speech, but not black children or female drivers. Here’s why.

Mark Zuckerberg says Facebook has now crossed the 2-billion user milestone. Not a surprise — but with greater power comes… well, you know.

…So here’s a problem with growth: Facebook makes most of its revenue from North America and Europe. But its user growth is coming from everywhere else. So what options does Facebook have in increasing revenue from ads? Adding more ads (which would be a disaster).

…Here’s another thing about ads on Facebook. Agencies say video ad viewability rates are as low as 20%.


Facebook nailed a big win in its live-streaming efforts: UEFA Champions League football matches will be streamed live on the platform.

Turner bought a minority stake in Vietnamese video production house Pops Worldwide. The company has more than 1,200 online video channels and claims to reach more than 32 million subscribers on YouTube.

India’s chat app Hike launched mobile payments — ahead of WhatsApp. “We’ve drawn some inspiration from our friends in China. We think it’s going to be extremely exciting.”


Sonny Swe was soaring as a publisher in Myanmar until he was thrown in prison for 14 years after running afoul of the country’s censorship law. In this TEDx, he talks about how he survived those years and how he looks at media today as the founder of Frontier Myanmar Magazine. “I started talking to the insects in my cell. And they became my friends.”

Sonny Swe

Good, timely advice for new journalists from Martin Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post. “They need to educate themselves in all of the tools that we now have available to us, and at the same time they also need to be entrepreneurial.”


If you’re looking for some killer headlines for social, check this out. BuzzSumo ran some analytics on headlines. These are the ones that get the clicks.

IFTTT got a big update. There are now new services that work with government and non-profit data.

Google will end its practice of scanning your Gmail messages for advertising purposes. They found it difficult to get corporate clients to trust them.

Google News has been redesigned for desktops. It’s cleaner and showcases fact-checked stories. One of the best things I love — story cards that deliver different perspectives on a story.


The New Republic has a terrific profile of Monocle, which my idol David Carr once described as “a slab of printed dark Belgian chocolate.” Here’s a look at how one of the most effective print mags attracts and builds a distinct, highly valuable global audience.


An elderly (and probably suspicious) woman held up a flight in Shanghai after throwing coins into the plane engine for good luck. The flight was five hours late.

The New York Times has a new online store where you can pick up t-shirts, mugs and photos. It’s meant to drive the point that the NYT is a lifestyle. So if you’re looking to show your gratitude for this newsletter, you can always send me one of these.

Quote of the week:
“Look at that young man. If you think he will be your boss in five years, hire him.” — Alibaba’s Jack Ma on hiring the right people for your team. Check out his other management advice delivered at a recent conference.


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