They consistently allow acquisitive mega-corporations to become even more mega. Facebook bought Instagram. Google bought YouTube. Disney seemingly owns every valuable intellectual property under the sun, from Marvel’s galaxy of superheroes to the stormtroopers and Jedi knights of Star Wars, and Amazon is on pace to own what’s left.
But they also prohibit smaller companies, like the one I work for, from banding together to negotiate content deals with a company like Twitter.
Social media companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, et. al., do not generally produce content. They profit from other people’s content shared willingly, and sometimes unwillingly, on their various platforms. This has been fantastic for the tech titans, who enjoy mountains of profit and far less fantastic for those who produce the content.
The internet revolution drained profits away from traditional media companies using the very content those companies produce. It’s a hell of a thing.
And, for various misguided reasons, the traditional media companies have been complicit.
I’m baffled when I see journalists thumb their scoops into Twitter or Facebook posts, often before they ever get around to turning those scoops into content for their publications. I understand the impulse. Everybody wants to be first, and all those likes and retweets and follows are digital dopamine, but who profits from that model?
Social media can be an effective way for content producers to reach their audiences, sure, though its value is vastly overstated, but even a generous cost-benefit analysis of the relationship shows it’s skewed heavily in favor of the tech giants.
The same tech giants, I think most of us can agree, that already wield far too much influence over our society.
We’re having a rollicking national debate over what to do about that outsized influence — as one example, conservative commentator Steven Crowder has announced a lawsuit against Google over the company’s vaguely justified efforts to suppress his admittedly controversial content on YouTube — and there is something we can do on that front that would also reassert the control of creators over their content.
The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act would allow media companies both large and small to organize themselves into associations and bargain collectively with the tech giants for use of their content.
If passed, it would be a recognition of the same right of association that people who join labor unions or the National Rifle Association enjoy, and it would companies like Twitter and Facebook to be accountable to the people who create the content that drives the bulk of their revenues.
The bipartisan legislation — its primary sponsor is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, but Republicans like Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Rand Paul of Kentucky are co-sponsors — would be a win for traditional media companies and also the public concerned with the excessive clout of Big Tech.
The only thing standing in the way is the aforementioned anti-trust policies.
Klobuchar’s bill should pass, and the anti-trust restrictions should be eased so that some balance can be restored to the process through which most Americans get their news.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.