Facebook and Google Allies Fight Revenue Sharing with Journalists by Invoking Hate Speech, Misinfo and ‘Straight White Men’
Silicon Valley is battling the California Journalism Preservation Act, a bill that would force big tech companies to share advertising revenue with journalists.
Facebook and Google are fighting a new California tax designed to boost local journalism by claiming that the proposal will instead spawn an avalanche of hate speech and misinformation.
The new tax, said Krisztian Katona, vice president of CCIA, a lobbying group for Google and Facebook, would reduce the ability to "take down hate speech and fight misinformation."
Chamber of Progress, another lobby shop funded by Google and Facebook, and run by a former Google executive, similarly warned that the bill is a "boon for disinformation outlets" such as Fox News.
The deceptive arguments are designed to splinter support for the California Journalism Preservation Act, or AB 886, a California bill that would force social media platforms to share advertising revenue generated from news articles with publishers and media outlets. If enacted, the major tech companies, which profit from the advertising revenue generated by numerous news articles, would be forced into an arbitration process to determine how much revenue they would have to share with news outlets.
The tech industry’s claims about “hate speech” and “misinformation” are largely unsubstantiated. Social media firms already publish all types of content without sharing advertising revenue. The over-the-top rhetoric instead aims to turn a fight over advertising revenue in which Democrats are inclined to sympathize with local news outlets, into a battle over controversial speech and ideas that many liberal lawmakers have a predisposition to see as an existential threat. Since Democrats have a supermajority in California, these kinds of appeals could be enough to doom the legislation.
Opponents also used liberal tropes about race and gender to decry the legislation in a committee hearing about the bill in April.
Katharine Trendacosta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that the current state of online media helped people like her against the "general trend of media which is towards straight white males." This legislation, she continued, "is a wealth transfer to these same billionaires."
In a surprising retort, Assemblymember Bill Essayli, a Republican from Riverside who supports AB 886, asked Trendacosta about EFF’s ties to Google, a question she declined to directly answer. In the past, EFF, which is a nonprofit, has received funding from Google. In 2012, Google named EFF in court disclosures as one of the many groups it counts on to advocate on its behalf.
Big Tech has a history of using liberal rhetoric and targeted identity-based political giving to ingratiate itself with Democrats who might otherwise regulate them. Google, in particular, has supported identitarian causes to gain influence with Democratic politicians. Disclosures show that the company pours funding into California politics through the LGBT Leadership Caucus, California Latino PAC, and Asian Pacific Islander Leadership PAC. Similarly, Facebook defeated antitrust reform last year by secretly funding organizations that helped them lobby using social justice rhetoric, by claiming that anti-monopoly legislation focused on breaking up tech giants would somehow harm disadvantaged minorities.
During the committee hearing, Essayli affirmed the need for better funding for journalism and expressed his discomfort with the role of Silicon Valley giants in the debate over AB 886.
“I think we're living under a tech oligarchy right now,” the Riverside Republican said, declaring his support for the bill.
Following the debate, the California Assembly Committee on Privacy and Consumer Protection passed AB 886 on a bipartisan basis, with nine members voting in favor, two members not voting, and none voting against the bill.
Rather than a wealth transfer to “straight white men” or billionaires, the legislation makes clear that the funds collected by the law would go to a wide variety of media outlets. The exact portion of the advertising revenue shared with local media outlets, according to a legislative impact study of the bill, would be decided by the arbitration process, with 70% of the resulting fees spent on journalists and support staff.