Robert Thomson has again taken aim at the dominant digital companies during a speech in Melbourne, while criticising politicians for allowing ‘Big Digital’ to adopt the path of least compliance.
“Had fewer politicians – in London, Washington and elsewhere – not been seduced by net narcissism, we may have cognisant communities better able to cope with the e-existential challenges,” he said last night.
“That includes, sometimes tragically, the teenagers whose insecurities and vulnerabilities are magnified cruelly in so-called social media, or the seemingly powerful global companies that panic and prevaricate at the first mutterings of an anti-social media mob.”
Thomson said at least there was a more vigorous debate about digital platforms.
“It’s clear there will be more regulation of companies who have sought to defy definition and avoid a reckoning.”
He warned the laws should not be rushed or reactionary.
“That we in the West are clumsily grappling with these issues as ‘developed’ nations makes one wonder what the impact will be on countries like China, India and Indonesia that are combining their industrial revolution with a digital revolution, coping with mass rural-to-urban mobility in the age of the mobile.”
Thomson said a mob mentality has taken hold in much of the West, pointing to “illiberal liberals” on a “seemingly endless, insatiable quest for indignation and umbrage”.
Thomson did not name Facebook when he delivered the Keith Murdoch Oration at the State Library Victoria, and only named Google when criticising it for disbanding its artificial intelligence advisory council.
The Australian-born, US-based chief executive has repeatedly criticised the digital platforms.
He said it was surprising that society’s leaders had been “so sanguinely supine” on the subject.
“As a result, we have institutionally ingrained some seriously bad behaviour and have dominant digital companies culturally ill-equipped to cope with the contemporary challenges.”
In a preliminary report in December, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said virtually no media regulation applies to digital platforms, despite them increasingly performing similar functions to media businesses.
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