Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is threatening to pull news feeds on its platforms for California residents if the state legislature passes the Journalism Preservation Act.
The proposed law is aimed at reversing a decline in California’s local news sector.
The statement was Meta’s first official comment specifically addressing AB 886.
Support for Local News Industry
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.
Social Media Companies Face Similar Fight in Congress
The social media giant has been waging a fight over similar compensation for news publishers at the Federal level in Congress and in countries overseas.
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 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.”
Battle Over News Usage Fees Becoming an International Fight
Meta is also is threatening to withdraw news in Canada over similar proposed legislation, with backing from its rival Alphabet, which said it would remove links to news articles from its search engines across the country.
In 2019, France ratified a copyright law that forced social media companies like Meta and Google to pay for content, unless they came to distribution agreements with publishers in France.
When the Australian federal legislature passed its news usage fee legislation in 2021, the two firms threatened to curtail services there. But both eventually struck deals with local media companies, after a brief standoff forced a shutdown of news feeds in the country, forcing the government to make amendments to the law.
Last month, Meta and Twitter won a fight over the upholding of Section 230, in Twitter v. Taamneh, after the United States Supreme Court avoided a ruling on the case.
The federal statute protects social media networks from a multitude of liability issues, leaving them off the hook if bad actors use them.