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On Wednesday, Facebook and Instagram threatened to block all news articles in California if state lawmakers pass the California Journalism Preservation Act, AB 866. The proposed law aims to redirect money from tech platforms to support media organizations in the state by implementing a tax on advertising profits. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D), argues this would provide a vital lifeline to struggling local news outlets. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, claims that the law would mainly benefit out-of-state sites.
In a statement published on social media, Meta Spokesperson Andy Stone wrote:
If the Journalism Preservation Act passes, we will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram, rather than pay into a slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers. The bill fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves and that substantial consolidation in California’s local news industry came over 15 years ago, well before Facebook was widely used. It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international companies over their own constituents.
Meta statement on the California Journalism Preservation Act. pic.twitter.com/ssgk1vSryB
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) May 31, 2023
This clash between tech giants and news outlets is not an isolated incident. Facebook and Google have previously resisted similar efforts in Australia. In early 2021, Facebook briefly blocked news articles, while Google threatened to withdraw its search engine from the country. Facebook and Google eventually capitulated and paid the news publishers, generating a reported $150 million for local news organizations.
Washington lawmakers proposed a bipartisan bill in Congress last year based on Australia’s law, and Facebook responded by threatening to remove news from its platform nationwide. Canada is in a similar standoff, with tech companies ready to blockade news content if similar legislation is passed. Unsurprisingly, California is the first state to try to enact such a bill.
If the bill passes, platforms like Facebook will have to pay news publishers whenever they post links to their articles. The idea is that news organizations could create collectives to negotiate a payment rate with these platforms. In this setup, all members of a collective would pocket the same amount of money. Recent amendments to the bill require publishers to spend 70 percent of the revenues from platforms on journalists and support staff, anticipated hiring and pay raise information must be shared from news organizations to their writers and staff, and public reporting requirements.
The California Journalism Preservation Act looks set for an Assembly vote this week. Here are some of the latest changes to the bill (which I strongly support): https://t.co/8eHk5JU2fG
— Matt Pearce 🦅🇺🇸 (@mattdpearce) May 30, 2023
The bill’s opposition cites concerns that bad actors peddling politicized misinformation, or sensationalism, could exploit the system, or that the legislation may benefit hedge-fund owners.
Ken Doctor, who founded Lookout Santa Cruz in 2020 with the goal of creating a sustainable model for local news, emphasizes the crucial role of local journalism. Doctor said:
You can’t run a local democracy if people don’t have basic information about the government and the power that surrounds them, whether it’s school districts or business, or labor. People need to know what’s going on to be able to actually activate a democracy.
Doctor raises additional concerns, explaining:
My worry is that the bill would disproportionately benefit the very companies that have been undermining local journalism over the past decade while offering relatively little support to independent organizations like mine.
The bill is expected to pass the California Assembly and move to the state Senate.