Meta tests news blocking in the face of legislative pressure
Meta faces new rules in Canada and California that are deeply reminiscent of recent regulatory changes in Australia – some of the tactics it is using to resist the changes are deeply reminiscent too – but it is likely that these laws will pass despite protests.
Why it matters
It’s strange to see both Meta – the owner of Instagram and Facebook – and, to an extent, Google repeat the unsuccessful tactics they deployed in Australia, where collective bargaining laws now exist. It means that technology firms now need to pay local publishers in the country for linking to news content or making it available on their platforms.
As much in California as Canada, and Australia before it (where there were hints that news could just be turned off), the effort has provided politicians with useful ammunition against the company, as their plucky states/countries stand up to Big Tech incarnate.
What’s going on: bargaining laws on the rise
In Canada: Meta is gearing up to test news blocking for a sample of Canadian users across its Facebook and Instagram properties, according to reports in The Toronto Star.
- The tests, which echo some similar measures from Google that also blocked news links, are a response to a law currently going through the Canadian senate.
- The Online News Act emulates much of Australia’s News Media bargaining code by providing collective bargaining abilities for news outlets, arbitration, and a preference for voluntary agreements, according to the Canadian Government.
In California: Threats to remove news content from users in Meta’s own home state just a day before the California Assembly voted to advance the Journalism Prevention act to the State Senate appeared to have strengthened the resolve of lawmakers, the Sacramento Bee reports.
- California’s draft law is similar, in that it requires platform companies to pay a percentage of ad revenues to publishers as a “journalism usage fee” which is then intended to go toward funding staff at newspapers around the state. Smaller publishers will also be allowed to negotiate jointly with platforms.
- Similar to arguments elsewhere, Meta argues that instead of helping struggling local publishers, funds would flow toward major publications out of state. It has also argued that less than 3% of content on the platform is news.
Did it work in Australia?
When Australia’s News Media Bargaining code came into force in early 2021, the story was closely followed around the world – an impact that likely influenced the above laws.
But its impact has not been an unalloyed success. Both Google and Meta appeared to set about making deals with publishers even ahead of the law coming into force. These tended to go to the largest and loudest publishers in the country, while the government was often reluctant to step in and designate platforms, thereby ‘forcing’ negotiations, as it was characterised by Meta. Despite this view, it’s light touch.
Imperfect as the law is, it appears to have been quite effective for publishers, who received around $150m USD ($200m AUD). This is according to Columbia Journalism School’s Bill Grueskin who has studied the effectiveness of the law.
Sourced from Toronto Star, Government of Canada, NPR, Sacramento Bee, Columbia Journalism Review, WARC