American politicians are “pretty impressed” with the Australian government’s aggressive crackdown on big-tech platforms, a senior US congressman has offered while admitting that right now “we’re at a moment where the US learns a lot more from Australia than the reverse”.

Joe Courtney, a 15-year US House of Representatives veteran – who sits on the Armed Services Committee and Education and Labor Committee, and is co-chair of the Friends of Australia Caucus – has been a big supporter of efforts to rein in the near unfettered market power of online tech giants like Facebook and Google.

Those efforts led to the March introduction of the bipartisan Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2021 (JCPA), which would suspend antitrust laws for four years so US-based news agencies can negotiate as a bloc for compensation from social-media giants using their content.

It’s a similar power to the News media bargaining codefloated a year ago by the Australian Competition & Competition Commission (ACCC) and passed into law in February – that laid out a structure for negotiations between news outlets and big-tech giants.

That law led Facebook to block Australians from accessing news for a week – which Courtney read as a sign that the Australian government is pushing the right buttons.

“We’re pretty impressed by the fact that you didn’t get totally rolled over by the big tech platforms,” he told a recent Progressive Policy Institute-McKell Institute webinar, “in terms of the political counter efforts that they were posing to that legislation.”

“We’re going to try and follow Australia’s example.”

When news, isn’t

Although Sky News Australia recently copped a week-long ban from YouTube for spreading COVID-19 misinformation, US-based outlets have struggled to regulate misinformation – which Courtney called “the complete breakdown of any sort of common baseline of civilised society, and how a democracy is going to function”.

“In many respects,” said Australian Shadow Minister for Industry and Innovation Ed Husic MP, who joined Courtney in the joint session, “we are reflecting this swing in the pendulum that’s occurred between the euphoric view about what technology would do for societies… and some of the trickier impacts of that technology, and the type of distrust that is being used as a weapon.”

By mixing third-party news into their online echo chambers with impunity, Google and Facebook “have really sapped the business model for newspapers and local media outlets that really do the grunt work in terms of generating content,” Courtney said.

“I tip my hat to Ed [Husic] and his colleagues for the law they passed in February: it showed that we’re not just helpless as democracies in terms of watching the free press evaporate because of the impact of high-tech platforms.”