Meta threatens to block news stories in CA if state bill requiring big tech to pay outlets passes

ByJ.R. Stone KGO logo
Thursday, June 1, 2023
Facebook threatens to block news stories in CA if state bill passes
A bill from East Bay assemblywoman Buffy Vicks would require Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to pay a 'usage fee' to local news publishers. But Meta has other plans.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Right now there is a battle brewing in Sacramento over the use of local news platforms online.

Thursday California state assembly members will vote on a plan that would require Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to pay certain local news outlets.

That's just the first step for the bill authored by East Bay assemblywoman Buffy Wicks. The bill would then have to pass in the State Senate.

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"I don't think this will ultimately save the news industry quote unquote, but I do think it could be a reliable news revenue stream," said John Wihbey, an associate professor at Northeastern University. Wihbey is referring to what is called the Journalism Preservation Act.

A bill under consideration in Sacramento would require Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to pay a 'usage fee' to local news outlets, or what are called "eligible digital journalism providers." With a goal of getting that money to journalists.

Outlets that help add to the platform experience.

"I think it is well-intentioned as a conceptual piece of legislation, I just think it's probably not well targeted towards the problem," said Wihbey.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced on Wednesday they will soon be rolling out the new AI-incorporated search as an experiment.

A spokesperson for Meta said Wednesday, "If the Journalism Preservation Act passes, we will be forced to remove news from Facebook and Instagram."

In Australia Facebook did just that for a short time when a similar requirement was put in place. They then started making deals with certain news outlets.

But have journalists benefited there?

"The honest answer J.R. is that it's a bit difficult to tell," said Adam Portelli who is Deputy Chief Executive of Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

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That union represents journalists, actors, and others in Australia. Portelli says clearly there are big sums of money involved and some evidence that the hurting media landscape has stabilized but it's hard to tell.

"There needs to be a guarantee that the money goes to the newsroom, not the boardroom. Our concern has been that there is nothing in Australian law that guarantees the money goes to boots on the ground, journalists actually performing the work," said Portelli.

While the bill in Sacramento would require Facebook and others to give 70% of certain profits, there are question marks there. Wihbey believes lawmakers should go back to the drawing board on this very issue and Portelli says transparency is key.

"There probably some sorting mechanism, maybe it's a regulator within the state who sort of ensures that in this case that 70% hole actually goes to the intended recipients. You just want to make this really airtight if you're going to do it this way," said Wihbey.

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