Meta in a statement May 31 laid out its opposition to AB 886, which would require big tech companies to pay news outlets a journalism usage fee.
The proposed law attempts to reverse a decline in California’s local news sector as more social media users get their headlines from digital stories, while the news outlets get nothing in return.
Democrat State Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who sponsored the California bill, tweeted that Meta’s threat was “a scare tactic that they’ve tried to deploy, unsuccessfully, in every country that’s attempted this.”
“It is egregious that one of the wealthiest companies in the world would rather silence journalists than face regulation,” Wicks said.
“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,” Meta policy communications director Andy Stone said in a statement on Twitter.
“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.”
The California bill would also require publishers to devote 70 percent of the proceeds from these fees to create and maintain positions in journalism throughout the state.
“It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international media companies over their own constituents,” Stone added.
The liberal social media giant has been fighting similar compensation for news publishers at the Federal level in Congress and in countries overseas like Australia where for a brief time it did shut down news feeds.
Stone posted to Twitter a similar threat to Congress on Dec. 5, that Meta would remove news entirely from its platform in the United States if the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which closely resembles the California legislation, was passed.
“If Congress passes an ill-considered journalism bill as part of national security legislation, we will be forced to consider removing news from our platform altogether,” he said.
He added that federal legislation had failed to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put content on the platform because “it benefits their bottom line—not the other way around.”
“Publishers and broadcasters benefit from our free services,” Meta told the Daily Caller, adding, “people do not come to Facebook for news, and it is not a significant portion of users’ feeds.”
The News Media Alliance, a trade group representing primarily newspaper publishers, pressured Congress to insert the measure into the Omnibus spending bill in December, arguing that “local papers cannot afford to endure several more years of Big Tech’s use and abuse, and time to take action is dwindling. If Congress does not act soon, we risk allowing social media to become America’s de facto local newspaper.”
However, the JCPA failed to make it into the spending bill in the end. But on March 31, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights, and John Kennedy (R-La.) reintroduced the JCPA.
The JCPA was written to give small news publications collective negotiating power against Big Tech companies, the senators said in a press release.
“Local news is facing an existential crisis, from ad revenues plummeting and newsrooms across the country closing to artificial intelligence tools taking content,” Klobuchar said.
“To preserve strong, independent journalism, news organizations must be able to negotiate on a level playing field with the online platforms that dominate news distribution and digital advertising.”
Over two dozen groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Public Knowledge, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, opposed the Congressional bill, arguing that it would “create an ill-advised antitrust exemption for publishers and broadcasters” and that it does not ensure that the “funds gained through negotiation or arbitration will even be paid to journalists.”