An Australia-style Facebook law may be about to show up in Washington

Last month, Facebook came to some sort of a deal with the Government of Australia to tentatively lift the blackout they had imposed on any posts linking to news sites. At that time, it seemed as if a deal with Australia wasn’t going to clarify what would be happening elsewhere around the globe. Canada was considering passing a similar law, as were several European countries. There was talk of something like that happening in the United States Congress, but it was mostly just that… talk. Now the situation appears to have changed. The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing to consider the Journalism Competition and Protection Act (JCPA) which would effectively mirror what was done in Australia. (NY Post)

Australia’s bold move to force tech giants to start paying for the news appears to be reigniting US efforts to hold Google and Facebook to account for the gloomy state of the local news industry.

Momentum is building for a new version of a bipartisan bill first introduced in 2019 that would allow US news publishers to band together to negotiate for payments by tech giants that link to their news content.

A hearing for the Journalism Competition and Protection Act has been tentatively set for March 12 by the House Judiciary Committee, sources said.

The Post published a good summary of the JCPA last month if you haven’t had a chance to review it. The short version is that the bill would allow smaller publishers to engage in collective negotiations with Facebook, Google and other major social media platforms to establish a pricing plan similar to what Australia wants to do without running afoul of anti-trust laws. Facebook would have to pay a fee to the publishers in exchange for allowing links to their articles. This is supposedly being done to compensate the publishers for the large share of the advertising revenue collected by Facebook.

As I’ve said in the past, I’ve never really understood the logic behind this conflict. If Facebook users are publishing significant portions of some news outlet’s articles without following fair use guidelines, those posts should be removed. If they’re only publishing links with brief snippets, then it seems logical that the majority of users who are interested in the post would follow the link to get the full story, adding to the publisher’s ad revenue. Facebook and Twitter should, at least in theory, be driving traffic for those news sites and doing so for free.

I find myself wondering how this arrangement would impact blogs like Hot Air, particularly if the rules would be applied to Twitter as well. Whenever I publish an article, I tweet a link to it along with the title and a featured image. I know that Ed Morrissey does the same thing on Facebook. Sometimes some of our readers tweet or post links to our content as well (for which we thank you). Would these rules mean that Facebook and Twitter would have to block those posts and tweets unless they paid Salem media for the “privilege” of allowing them to appear?

It’s not that there aren’t big problems with Facebook and Twitter censoring people, particularly conservatives. But the “solutions” being discussed here seem to be going after the wrong target. Rather than granting anti-trust exemptions to news sites so they can negotiate with Facebook, shouldn’t Congress be considering modifying the anti-trust laws to prevent the social media giants from engaging in censorship? Punishing companies like Facebook and Twitter by making them pay for allowing their users to post links doesn’t get to the heart of the real issues we’re dealing with. And as I explained above, it could actually wind up hurting some of the publishers who don’t wind up cutting a deal with them.

I’d have to wait and see how this shakes out if this law is actually passed and goes into effect. But it still seems more likely than not that we may be preparing to make the situation worse rather than better while allowing the tech giants to continue censoring people with the “wrong sort of ideas.”