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Meta threatens to restrict news in California if state bill passes, here’s what a blackout would look like

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Posted at 6:33 PM, Jun 05, 2024

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Imagine during a wildfire, you go to share a news story about the blaze on Instagram but are unable to after an error pops up telling you the article can’t be shared.

That’s what happened last summer in Canada as wildfires raged through the north.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, blocks news from appearing on its social media apps in the country. It’s the company’s response to government legislation that forces tech giants to compensate news outlets for their work.

The error message that still comes up on phones in Canada could soon be coming to Facebook and Instagram users in California if a state law passes.

“It’s a terrible stunt, it advances a horrific precedent in the United States of America, and I think every Californian should be asking who’s next,” said State Senate President pro tem Mike McGuire, a former media worker.

McGuire has co-authored the California Journalism Preservation Act, which passed the state Assembly last June and is now in the Senate for consideration.

The act would force ad monopolies like Google and Meta to pay for content they use from news outlets. It would require publishers to reinvest the money back into journalism jobs.

“We’re seeing layoffs after layoff after layoff month after month after month not just here in the Golden State but throughout America,” McGuire said adding over 100 newspapers went out of business in California last year.

The proposed legislation is generating fierce opposition from Google and Meta.

Google has started blocking news to some users in California as a test and is urging lawmakers to take a different approach.

The company argues the law would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds and not local journalism.

Meta shared similar concerns and said in a statement it will block news on Facebook and Instagram if the proposal moves forward.

“The bill fails to recognize that publishers and broadcasters put their content on our platform themselves and that substantial consolidation in California’s local news industry came over 15 years ago, well before Facebook was widely used,” a Meta spokesperson said in a statement.

'A strike against democracy'

The proposed legislation is generating a range of opinions within the journalism industry.

“Having a site block news because they don't (want to) pay their fair share strikes me as a strike against democracy,” said Dean Nelson, a journalism professor at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Nelson is concerned a news blackout on Google and Meta products will lead to citizens being less informed.

“I ask my students, where do they get their information? They aren't getting it from traditional news sources. They're getting it from social media sites.”

Back at the state Capitol, time is ticking for the bill to pass. There are just a few months left in the current legislative session.

McGuire, who lives in a northern California area that’s been devastated by wildfires, said he is urging the online giants to not move forward with a news blackout that would put “profit in front of our safety.”

“We are not going to be bullied. I strongly suggest that the platforms sit down around the table and let’s work out a compromise.”

If the bill passes, the legislation will go into effect next January.