California Democrats Looking to Force Google and Facebook to Subsidize ‘Traditional’ Media

News & Politics

So-called “Traditional Media” has been going the way of the Dodo since the arrival of the internet. Various schemes have been employed to try and save the dinosaur, including putting content behind a paywall, massively cutting staff, or merging with other dying media outlets.

Then along came the billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Patrick Soon-Shiong — owners of the Washington Post and Tribune Company respectively — who didn’t want to have their morning coffee without being able to read their morning paper. Eventually, the losses will be so steep that even people who have everything will tire of playing fairy godmother to a bunch of arrogant, biased, partisans who constantly denigrate and insult the readers who have gone elsewhere for their news.

In short, efforts to save what’s euphemistically come to be known as “Traditional Media” will end up being as successful as the efforts to save blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and Mom-and-Pop grocery stores.

No problem. Democratic lawmakers in California have found a way to subsidize the media without spending a dime of taxpayer money. The California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA) would make Google and Facebook pay to link and send traffic to media websites, despite the fact that media outlets get as much if not more out of this arrangement.

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It’s being referred to as a “link tax,” and according to Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick, it’s “based on a ridiculously confused understanding of basically everything.”

In short form: if any website does not want to get traffic from Google or Facebook, they have the power to control that by using robots.txt or redirects. It’s easy.

The problem is that they want the traffic. They want it so bad that they hire “search engine optimization” experts to help them get more traffic.

The problem is that they don’t just want the traffic, they also want to get paid for that traffic.

This is backwards in so many ways. It’s basically saying that they should get paid to have other companies send them traffic.

Just wow.

Worse, it turns the entire concept of the open web on its head by “saying that the government can force some websites to pay for linking to other websites (and, on top of that, force the paying websites to have to host those links, even if they don’t want to),” according to Masnick.

Under the CJPA’s terms, online platforms would be subject to the link tax if they have at least 50,000,000 monthly active users or subscribers in the U.S. or are owned or controlled “by a person with either…United States net annual sales or a market capitalization greater than five hundred fifty billion dollars ($550,000,000,000), adjusted annually for inflation” or “at least 1,000,000,000 worldwide monthly active users on the online platform.”

Thankfully, Meta doesn’t want anything to do with this nonsense any more than any other tech company and is threatening to “remove news from Facebook and Instagram.”

“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,” reads a statement posted to Twitter by Meta spokesperson Andy Stone.

“It is disappointing that California lawmakers appear to be prioritizing the best interests of national and international media companies over their own constituents,” the Meta statement concludes.

Not too many of us hold any excess love for Meta, but this is an issue of the California government subsidizing some news outlets at the expense of others they may not like as much.

It’s unfair and dangerous to democracy for politicians to shape the media landscape to their liking.

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