Meta, the parent company of social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, threatened to remove all news content in California on Wednesday should a bill imposing “journalism usage fees” pass.
The focal point of Meta’s concern is Assembly Bill 886 by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), which would specifically have digital advertising companies, such as Google or Facebook, pay for content they use from media outlets. The bill, also known as the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), would pay a “journalism usage fee” to media outlet owners each time local news articles are used by the companies that also sell advertising along with it. Publishers would receive the funds and would then need to invest at least 70% back into funding journalism jobs, such as paying journalists or creating new journalism positions.
Wicks wrote the bill to compensate news outlets, specifically local news outlets, whose stories had been picked up by giants such as Google or Meta, but with the advertising going straight to them rather than back down to the original publishers. As newspaper advertising revenues are down 66%, with media outlet employees cut by 44%, lawmakers voted for the bill to protect media outlets in the changing market, as it is projected that regular online advertising will not make up for the loss of print advertising for the foreseeable future.
“As news consumption has moved online, community news outlets have been downsized and closing at an alarming rate,” noted Assemblywoman Wicks earlier this month. “The dominant type platforms, both search engines and social networks, have such unrivaled market power that newsrooms are coerced to share the content they produce, which tech companies sell advertising against for almost no compensation in return.”
While the bill has advanced in the Assembly, companies like Google and Meta have been dead set against the bill, seeing the bill as only benefiting larger, non-California-based companies rather than smaller California publishers, as well as the bill costing these companies millions of dollars. While no figure has been specifically given, the costs are expected to be massive. So much so that, on Wednesday, Meta announced that they could block off all news on their social media sites in California if AB 886 passes.
“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,” said Meta spokesman Andy Stone in a Tweet. “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 media companies over their own constituents.”
Meta statement on the California Journalism Preservation Act. pic.twitter.com/ssgk1vSryB
— Andy Stone (@andymstone) May 31, 2023
Reaction came in swiftly Wednesday. “This threat from Meta is a scare tactic that they’ve tried to deploy, unsuccessfully, in every country that’s attempted this,” Assemblywoman Wicks said in a statement. “It is egregious that one of the wealthiest companies in the world would rather silence journalists than face regulation.”
Other experts noted that the bill would only need to be slightly altered to quash the criticism that funds would only benefit larger outlets.
“Meta is using this as an argument, and all Wicks needs to do is amend the bill to have all outlets, especially local ones, be covered evenly,” explained online advertising consultant Darren Adams to the Globe on Wednesday. “She does that, specifically include smaller outlets, even those with strong political leanings, and Meta won’t have a leg to stand on besides money. Because don’t be fooled here. It all boils down to money, and Meta does not want to pay. They’d rather stop all news in California before they pay. You can tell they’re in a corner.”
AB 886 is expected to be heard again in the legislature soon.
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