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Facebook and Instagram Threaten to Block News Stories in California If AB-886 Passes

by Bobby Allyn, NPR
Update June 1: A bill that would force Big Tech companies to pay news agencies for using their content passed its first big test in the California state legislature. Meta, based in Menlo Park, has threatened to block news articles in California if AB-886 passes into law.
May 31, 2023 — Facebook and Instagram will block all news articles in California if state lawmakers pass a bill meant to funnel money from the tech platforms to media organizations, a Meta spokesman threatened on Wednesday.

The California Journalism Preservation Act would essentially tax the advertising profits platforms make from distributing news articles. Under the measure, some 70% of the money collected from the so-called "usage fee" would support newsrooms throughout the state.

The bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, a Democrat who represents western Contra Costa county and northern Alameda county, argues the measure could provide a "lifeline" to local news organizations that have seen advertising revenue plunge.

"As news consumption has moved online, community news outlets have been downsized and closing at an alarming rate," Wicks said at a hearing on the bill earlier this month, pointing out that more than 100 California news organizations have gone under in the past decade.

But now, Meta warns the legislation would make the company block the sharing of news articles in California on Facebook and Instagram.

The bill, the company argued, would mostly assist out-of-state sites "under the guise" of helping news publishers in California.

"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," spokesman for Meta Andy Stone said on Wednesday.

When asked how exactly the act would force Meta to stop distributing news articles, Stone said: "It's pay or remove the news. Our hand is being forced."

Danielle Coffey, executive vice president of the News Media Alliance trade group, criticized Meta for threatening to block articles in the state, saying the ailing news industry would benefit from having tech platforms pay their fair share.

"Meta's threat to take down news is undemocratic and unbecoming. We have seen [this] in their playbook before," Coffey said in a statement.

Threats in California echo Big Tech's warnings in Washington and overseas

Facebook and Google have developed something of a predictable response to efforts attempting to make them pay the media industry for articles: Threatening to stop carrying news in protest.

They aren't empty threats; Facebook briefly blocked news articles in Australia over a similar measure that required tech companies to pay publishers for news content. Google said it would pull its search engine from the country before a compromise was struck.

Lawmakers in Washington floated a plan last year with the goal of helping news outlets negotiate with tech companies, and Facebook said it would yank news from the platform nationwide.

Canada is getting a taste of it, too. There, the
tech giants say they're ready to pull the plug on news content if a similar measure is enacted. As a test, Google has even blocked news articles from searches for some users.

A spokeswoman for Google declined to comment on the California bill.
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