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Meta issuing threat to pull news content

Proposed law unfair, says tech giant by COMPILED BY DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE STAFF FROM WIRE REPORTS | December 7, 2022 at 2:27 a.m.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms threatened to remove all news content from its U.S. platforms -- in what would be a major blow for journalism outlets grappling with a difficult media market -- if Congress moves ahead with a proposal that gives publications greater leverage to negotiate compensation from tech platforms distributing their content.

The proposal, which lawmakers originally floated as a stand-alone bill and now appear to be considering as part of a must-pass annual defense bill, would allow news outlets to collectively bargain with tech giants that distribute their content, including Google parent Alphabet and Meta, giving them greater leverage to negotiate favorable commercial terms.

A Meta spokesman issued a blistering statement Monday, criticizing any plan to accelerate the provisions from the Journalism and Competition Preservation Act through Congress. Such a move will force the technology giant "to consider removing news content from our platform altogether," Meta said in a statement shared by spokesman Andy Stone in a tweet, going so far as to say the proposal would create a "cartel-like entity."

Meta's threat is the latest in an emerging global battle between governments and tech giants over whether the latter should be forced to pay news outlets to display their original content in search results and social media feeds.

Meta has previously acted on similar threats in Australia, where last year the company temporarily blocked all news content from appearing on its feeds in protest of similar plans since enacted by the Australian government.

"The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act fails to recognize the key fact: Publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves because it benefits their bottom line -- not the other way around," Meta said, arguing that any attempt to force the tech giant into direct negotiations with news outlets ignored the value it already provided to them in the form of increased traffic and subscriptions.

"Creating a cartel-like entity which requires one private company to subsidize other private entities is a terrible precedent for all American businesses," Meta continued.

Tech giants have long resisted the proposals. They argue that news outlets already benefit significantly from having their content shared on tech platforms, which they choose to do, and that the plan would be unfair.

Proponents of the bill -- provisions of which lawmakers are considering including as part of the mammoth National Defense Authorization Act, Reuters reported -- say it would buoy the shrinking profits of local news outlets.

The news industry's profits have declined significantly in recent years, and Google and Facebook have come to dominate advertising markets -- a key source of revenue for journalism outlets.

The News Media Alliance, a trade body representing the newspaper industry and a supporter of the proposal, described Meta's threat as "undemocratic and unbecoming" in a statement Monday.

In a tweet, the trade body said that allowing outlets to collectively bargain with tech giants would let them negotiate fair compensation for the original content they provide to them, leveling an unfair playing field that has forced many journalism outlets to close down in recent years.

"Small and local publishers currently do not have the ability to negotiate these deals on their own, as the dominant tech platforms capture the majority of U.S. digital ad revenue, leaving local publishers with little to reinvest in the production of high-quality journalism," the trade body said in an earlier statement backing the bill.

Canadian lawmakers are debating similar measures which -- if approved -- would make theirs the second government in the world to force Meta and Alphabet to negotiate commercial deals with news outlets whose content they distribute.

The proposal would generate $241.7 million annually for Canadian news businesses, the parliamentary budget estimated in a report published October.

The News Media Alliance said the willingness of Meta and Alphabet to enter into deals with news outlets, as in Australia, demonstrated the commercial viability of the collective bargaining model outlined in the U.S. proposal.

"As the tech platforms compensate news publishers around the world, it demonstrates there is a demand and economic value for news," the trade body said.

While the proposal has received bipartisan support in Congress, the attempt to move ahead with the provisions has divided industry bodies and groups.

More than two dozen organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Wikimedia Foundation and the Computer & Communications Industry Association, signed a letter Monday objecting to the proposal.


Meta's independent Oversight Board, meanwhile, criticized "several shortcomings" in the company's cross-check program, which moderates the content posted by high-profile users such as former President Donald Trump.

In a damning report published Tuesday, the board called for significant changes, including transparency around how the process operates and who qualifies for it, as well as reducing the harm from content shared by people within the program.

"Such content should not be allowed to remain on the platform accruing views simply because the person who posted it is a business partner or celebrity," the board said in a blog post after the report was published.

The cross-check program, first revealed by The Wall Street Journal last year, was designed to help Meta avoid public relations backlash by famous people who mistakenly have their posts taken down for rule violations -- something that happens to all users more and more often as the company relies on artificial intelligence for managing content violations.

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, a board co-chair, has previously criticized Meta in failing to explain how famous people get protection for their content.

In a 46-page review, the board said it found the cross-check program, appears "more directly structured to satisfy business concerns," than to advance the company's human rights commitments.

The board made 32 recommendations for how Meta could comply with its commitments and address the identified issues, including "radically" increasing transparency around how the cross-check program works and to remove or hide content that is flagged for violations pending a review.

Information for this article was contributed by Leo Sands of The Washington Post and Agatha Cantrill of Blooomber News (WPNS)

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