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Microsoft says it’s time for the US to require Google and Facebook to pay media outlets for links to their news articles, framing it as a way to stamp out misinformation and preserve democracy.
In a stunning 2,500-word blog post, Microsoft President Brad Smith blasted Google and Facebook for undermining the Fourth Estate by taking ad revenue away from traditional media outlets, including local newspapers.
Smith is calling on the two internet giants to pay traditional news outlets, citing the need for objective reporting and facts when digital misinformation continues to run rampant, especially on social media. He points to the pro-Trump riot that erupted at the US Capitol on Jan. 6 as a frightening example to how politicians can harness misinformation to derail democracy.
“This year, even after losing more than 50 lawsuits in a row, President Trump waged a sustained campaign that successfully persuaded tens of millions of his supporters that the election was rigged. Without this sustained disinformation barrage, it’s hard to imagine that January 6 would have become such a tragic day,” Smith wrote.
“Without new and greater restraints, there is a growing risk that more politicians and advocates will exploit the algorithms and business models underlying social media and the internet to turn disinformation into a new political tactic of choice,” he added.
Smith published the blog post after his company publicly backed a proposal in Australia that would establish revenue-sharing arrangements and force Google and Facebook to pay media outlets to link to their news articles. According to Smith, the US, Canada, and the European Union should follow Australia’s example and enact a similar law to ensure press outlets, such as local newspapers, still receive funding.
Microsoft’s own search engine, Bing, is ready to comply. “Unlike Google, if we can grow, we are prepared to sign up for the new law’s obligations, including sharing revenue as proposed with news organizations. The key would be to create a more competitive market, something the government can facilitate,” Smith said. “But, as we made clear, we are comfortable running a high-quality search service at lower economic margins than Google and with more economic returns for the press.”
Both Google and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But they previously opposed the media payment proposal in Australia. Google even threatened to shut down its search engine in the country if the legislation passes.
“No website and no search engine pays to connect people to other websites, yet the Code would force Google to include and pay for links to news websites in the search results you see,” the internet giant said in December. “This sets the groundwork to unravel the key principles of the open internet people use every day.”
However, Google appears to be changing its tune after Microsoft not only publicly supported the media payment proposal in Australia, but also said its Bing search engine was prepared to comply. Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he held a “constructive meeting” with Google CEO Sundar Pichai on the topic.
“At the end of the day, they (Google) understand that Australia sets the rules for how these things operate. And I was very clear about how I saw this playing out,” Morrison added.
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