Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is inching closer to a faceoff with California over a proposal to require dominant platforms to pay news outlets to distribute their content.
The tech giant is using familiar playbook to try and thwart California’s Journalism Preservation Act, which passed the State Assembly on Thursday, by threatening to pull news content off of Facebook in the state.
Meta’s threat is a tactic the company used in opposition to similar federal proposals in the U.S. and other countries, including Australia.
On Friday, Meta ramped up its threat in response to a similar Canadian bill, the Online News Act. In a blog post, Meta said it will begin tests on Facebook and Instagram to limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada.
The News Media Alliance, a non-profit organization that represents nearly 2,000 publishers in the U.S., and is an ardent supporter of such proposals, said in a joint statement with the California Broadcasters Association and California News Publishers Association, that Meta’s threat in California is “undemocratic and unbecoming.”
“As the tech platforms compensate news publishers around the world, it demonstrates there is a demand and economic value for news,” the groups said.
Meta spokesperson Andy Stone on Wednesday tweeted a statement that the company “will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram” if the bill is passed. Meta’s statement slammed the bill as creating a “slush fund that primarily benefits big, out-of-state media companies under the guise of aiding California publishers.”
Despite the threat from Meta, though, California’s bill passed out of the Assembly in a 46-6 vote. It will head to the state Senate next.
The bill would require tech platforms that distribute news content to pay outlets for it.
News Media Alliance President and CEO Danielle Coffey called the Assembly’s vote a “strong statement” that California lawmakers “value quality journalism and a free press.”
“And [they] stood strong today in a vote that allows us compensation from big tech platforms,” Coffey told The Hill on Thursday.
Meta rolled out the playbook roughly two years ago in Australia. Facebook restricted access to news links in Australia as the nation’s government proceeded with a bill that required dominant platforms like Facebook and Google to pay outlets for distributing their news.
Facebook reversed course after last-minute negotiations and an amendment that added additional time for platforms and publishers to negotiate before a forced arbitration.
In December, Meta made a similar threat in the face of U.S. legislation. Amid reports that the controversial Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) would be added to a defense authorization bill, Meta spokesperson Stone tweeted that if the bill was passed the platform would be “forced to consider removing news from our platform altogether.”
The bill advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support last year, but never made it into law.
Coffey said she wouldn’t call Meta’s playbook successful, pointing to Australia’s new lawand the movement on similar proposals in Canada and California.The JCPA was also
reintroduced in the Senate this year with additional Senate sponsors.
The proposals, though, also face opposition from outside groups in addition to Meta’s backlash.
Tech industry groups like Chamber of Progress and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which name Meta and Google among their corporate partners and members, have lined up against the California proposals.
Non-profit media advocacy group Free Press is also urging lawmakers against supporting the California measure.
Free Press Action’s senior director of journalism and civic information Mike Rispoli in a statement said the bill would “accelerate the loss of locally engaged outlets while creating a more toxic information environment that rewards sensationalist clickbait over public-interest journalism.”
“The only thing this bill would preserve is the profitable bottom lines of many of the very same corporations and hedge funds that have decimated local news and laid off thousands of hard-working reporters,” Rispoli said.
The federal proposal, the JCPA, faced similar backlash from the tech industry and advocacy groups often at odds over proposed tech regulation.
Dozens of civil society organizations, including the ACLU, Public Knowledge and Free Press, sent a letter to Congressional leaders in December, warning the bill could cause content moderation challenges and “force platforms” to carry content of any digital journalism provider “regardless of how extreme their content” may be.
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