Facebook Threatens to Nuke News in California if Forced to Pay Publishers

Facebook Threatens to Nuke News in California if Forced to Pay Publishers

Meta lashed out at its home state on Wednesday, threatening to shut off access to news links on Facebook and Instagram in California if the legislature passed a Bill forcing it to pay news publishers for their journalism.

The proposed Bill, dubbed the California Journalism Preservation Act, would force social networks like Facebook and Instagram or search engines like Google to pay news publishers a “journalism usage fee” when users access articles and when they sell advertising against news content. New publishers, in turn, would be required to spend 70% of the funds they received from tech companies on paying journalists and news production. Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, vehemently opposes the bill and says lawmakers fundamentally misunderstand the relationship between social networks and publishers. Now, Meta’s threatening to pull the plug on news altogether if it passes, as it did here in 2021. The move could leave California’s 39 million residents scrambling to find information.

“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 companies under the guise of aiding California publishers,” the company said in a statement. Google did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Meta takes issue with the idea that it and other social networking companies are uniquely responsible for the decimation of news outlets, especially local ones, over the past two decades. One in five U.S. newspapers have shut down since 2004. The California News Publishers Association, meanwhile, estimates some 52 per cent of California residents get their news from Facebook. Big tech critics cast part of the blame for that tectonic shift on social media’s meteoric ascent around the same time. Meta disagrees and claims the journalism industry was struggling prior to Facebook’s dominance in the 2010s.

“The bill fails to recognise that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platforms themselves and that substantial consolidation in California’s local news industry came over 15 years ago, well before Facebook was widely used.”

How would California’s online journalism Bill work?

The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), introduced by Oakland Democratic Assemblymember Buffy Wicks with support from the Californian News Publishers’ Association, would force tech companies to pay “journalism usage fees” when advertising is sold alongside local news articles appearing on a social network or search engine. The bill draws inspiration from similar federal legislation, though that bill died in Congress late last year. Both Bills bear a striking resemblance to legislation in Canada, as well as here, each of which Meta has vigorously opposed. All of these bills, in one way or another, are intended to serve as a form of digital reparations for news outlets crushed during the transition from print to digital media. The California Bill advanced in the state’s Assembly Judiciary Committee earlier this month with a unanimous 9-0 vote.

“As news consumption has moved online, community news outlets have been downsized and closed at an alarming rate,” Wicks recently told The California Globe. “The dominant type platforms, both search engines and social networks, have such unrivalled market power that newsrooms are coerced to share the content they produce, which tech companies sell advertising against for almost no compensation in return.” Wicks did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.

Meta and Google have shown a willingness to go to the mat against legislation attempting to force them to pay for news. Both companies have said these bills mischaracterise their relationship with news publishers and ultimately amount to a “link tax.” Back in 2021, Meta followed through on threats to cut off news access in Australia. Its social networks briefly cut off news access for an estimated 17 million users, leaving essential services like hospitals and fire services caught in the crossfire. Meta eventually brought news back to the platform but only after lawmakers agreed to a watered-down version of the Bill that would let Facebook and Google agree to deals before being forced to enter arbitration with publishers. Meta is now playing that same game of tech policy hardball with lawmakers in Canada over its proposed Online News Act.

Big Tech firms aren’t the only ones opposed to the current legislation. Earlier this month, a group of local California newspapers organised under Free Press Action wrote a letter to lawmakers saying the bill, as currently written, would do more harm than good. The coalition, which includes the Times of San Diego and ​​Alameda Post, fears the bill would make it more difficult to access trusted news and could incentivise clickbait articles. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU of California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also oppose the CJPA.

“The CJPA would reward the worst kinds of journalism and make it harder for platforms to protect users and the public from the spread of hateful and deceitful content, resulting in an internet ecosystem where more hate speech, misinformation and sensationalist clickbait proliferates online,” the Free Press Action letter reads.

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