Facebook has publicly threatened to remove news content from its American platform if the US Congress forces big tech groups to systematically pay publishers and broadcasters for carrying their content.
The warning echoes Facebook’s shortlived decision to ban news from its website in Australia last year, an attempt to defy groundbreaking legislation that sought to change the terms of trade between publishers and platforms.
The warning from Facebook’s parent, Meta, on Monday came after a long-debated bill seeking to empower American news groups was attached to the National Defense Authorization Act, significantly increasing its chances of being enacted.
“If Congress passes an ill-considered journalism bill as part of national security legislation, we will be forced to consider removing news from our platform altogether rather than submit to government-mandated negotiations,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone tweeted.
“No company should be forced to pay for content users don’t want to see and that’s not a meaningful source of revenue,” he added.
The stand-off reflects the tougher stance taken by Meta as it adjusts its approach to paying for news and fighting tighter regulatory requirements globally.
Meta has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on journalism in recent years, reaching dozens of deals with news groups around the world. But it has long resisted regulatory moves that mandate payments.
As efforts to make big tech platforms pay for news have spread beyond Australia, Meta has signalled privately to publishers that it intends to change its approach in coming years, and is unlikely to roll over existing licensing arrangements when they expire.
The US bill, known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, is modelled on the Australian regime and would require platforms such as Facebook and Google to reach licensing agreements with news groups or enter an arbitration process to decide fair compensation.
Unlike in Australia, the bill’s sponsors say it is designed to principally support smaller news providers and local news organisations rather than big national publishers such as Dow Jones or The New York Times.
The News Media Alliance, a trade body for US publishers, said Facebook’s threat was “undemocratic and unbecoming”.
“These threats were attempted before the Australian government passed a similar law to compensate news outlets, played out unsuccessfully, and ultimately news publishers were paid,” the NMA said in a statement. “The Australian law resulted in countless jobs for local journalists and $140 million to news outlets, which translates to billions in the US.”