Meta is putting up a stink in the face of a bill that's working its way through Congress, and is currently folded in to a defense-spending authorization package, which would give journalistic content creators the ability to seek payments from Meta for using their content.
It's been over six years since we were debating Facebook's utility as a news aggregator, in the face of rampant misinformation and lies from then-candidate Donald Trump. While some people may still use Facebook to get much of their news, as shared by their friends or as directly shared by the news sources themselves, it's far from clear that Facebook remains as powerful a player in this regard, especially when it comes to American news media, six years on.
But nonetheless, Congress is now getting around to making good on a years-old threat to make Facebook/Meta compensate the journalism producers that create a good percentage of what people see on the platform each day. And this has been framed as an antitrust measure, and a well-intentioned way to give restitution to small media companies and hometown newspapers that have seen their financial models and advertising revenue decimated by the internet generally, and Facebook specifically.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), as it's called, was first introduced in March 2021 by Senator Amy Klobuchar, and it now looks close to passing with bipartisan support. As CNN reports, the measure would "create a four-year exemption under US antitrust law allowing news outlets to bargain collectively against social media platforms for a larger share of ad revenue in exchange for their news content."
Meta appears to want to play hardball with senators and negotiate themselves a better deal, because they're currently threatening to pull all news media off of Facebook and Instagram if the JCPA passes in its current form.
A similar measure proposed in Australia last year, called the Media Bargaining law, prompted a similar response, with Facebook moving ahead and temporarily killing off all news media content before reinstating it a week later, after negotiations with the government.
At the time, the company said in a release, "The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content. It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia."
This time around, Meta spokesperson spokesman Andy Stone put out a statement saying, "If Congress passes an ill-considered journalism bill as part of national security legislation e will be forced to consider removing news from our platform altogether rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions."
Stone went further to say that the proposed bill would create a "cartel-like entity which requires one private company to subsidize other private entities," and this was "a terrible precedent for all American businesses."
Pushback on the bill is coming from a number of corners, and not just the tech industry. Per CNN, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Wikimedia Foundation, and Public Knowledge all co-signed a letter to congressional leaders Monday opposing the bill. The groups suggest that the bill could have unintended consequences, including the favoring of large media organizations like the New York Times and CNN, at the expense of the very small entities that the bill is meant to compensate.
Also, these groups suggest that the bill could allow for the Newsmaxes of the world to sue Meta if and when a story gets flagged for misinformation and is de-prioritized in the algorithm, leading to fewer eyeballs seeing it.
As the Washington Post reports, a similar measure is set to pass in Canada, which a parliamentary report estimates will generate $241.7 million for Canadian news organizations. And the fact that Meta seems likely to cooperate with this and the earlier Australian law suggests that they won't object completely to the idea of giving kickbacks to traditional and digital media, in addition to sending them traffic.
Sen. Klobuchar has not yet commented on Meta's threat, but if I were a betting men, it sounds like some negotiations could be coming.