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Facebook may pull news over proposed law

Facebook street front sign in Menlo Park, California.
(Photo by Minette Lontsie via Wikimedia Commons)

Meta Platforms, the parent company of Facebook, said it may pull news content from its flagship social media platform if proposed legislation purporting to protect journalism and content creation businesses becomes federal law.

The law, called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), would allow news and content publishers to organize in an effort to charge technology companies like Facebook and Google for the perceived privilege of linking to their stories.

For nearly two decades, news publishers have struggled with a trend of online advertising dollars moving away from their “spray and pray” business models in favor of connected platforms that offer granular — and, in most cases, better — audience targeting.

Newspapers, television stations and other news publishers responded to this trend by employing search and social media optimization strategies to drive traffic to their websites, with the top publishers amassing millions of followers across social media that have helped pump web traffic to their websites and increase connected advertising revenue.

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Despite this, some smaller publishers accuse Google, Facebook and other platforms of cannibalizing their products by offering content that they are unable to monetize.

Earlier this year, Meta began telling its partner publishers that it would stop paying for the distribution of news content on its website. Other publishers have rejected licensing deals with Google and Meta based on a belief that they can extract higher payments from technology companies if the JCPA is passed.

Now, Meta says it might drop news content completely if the JCPA is passed, as reports indicate that the proposed legislation might be rolled into a broader national defense spending bill that is up for debate.

“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 rather than submit to government mandated negotiations that unfairly disregard any value we provide to news outlets through increased traffic and subscriptions,” a spokesperson for Meta said in a statement that was posted to the company’s branded Twitter account.

Some online publishers say the JCPA is a well-intentioned, but deeply flawed, attempt at helping the news industry at a time when legacy commercial media is seen as an antidote to the propagation of misinformation and so-called “fake news” on the Internet.

Mike Masnick, the founder and chief executive of the media website TechDirt, called the JCPA “a blatant handout by Congress in the form of a link tax that would require internet companies pay news [organizations]…for daring to send them traffic.”

“The whole thing stinks of corruption,” Masnick asserted. “Politicians often rely on local newspapers for endorsements to win re-election campaigns, so they want to keep local papers happy. And it’s the perfect kind of corrupt handout for Congress. It’s not even using ‘taxpayer’ funds — it’s forcing other companies — the hated internet companies — to foot the bill.”

Masnick noted that most newspapers whose publishers have come out in support of the bill haven’t run editorials in opposition to it, though journalistic organizations are expected to give equal weight to discourse on controversial matters like this.

“The newspapers don’t seem likely to be running any editorials, or even op-eds, highlighting the problems and cronyism of the JCPA,” Masnick noted. “Because, why would they? If it passes, it’s literally free cash for the companies.”

Masnick also said the JCPA is also unlikely to help reporters and other journalists working at corporate-owned news outlets. Instead, the cash will likely flow to venture capitalist firms like hedge funds that have gobbled up newspapers and news websites over the last few years. In a separate piece for TechDirt, Joshua Lamel noted the same, calling the JCPA “controversial and poorly-vetted.”

“Since massive media conglomerates like Gannett and Alden Global Capital stand to reap a financial windfall if it passes, it’s no surprise that the JCPA was drafted in conjunction with these conglomerates’ lobbyists behind closed doors,” Lamel wrote earlier this month. “This insular process resulted in the bill’s language only being shared the day before a Senate markup and many Senate Judiciary members also raised serious concerns about the JCPA’s constitutionality and its intentional beneficiaries: massive media conglomerates.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 10 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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