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Illinois measure to require social media companies pay news outlets debated

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(The Centetr Square) – A proposal in Illinois to have social media companies pay media outlets that link to their content is being called a “link tax” by some, but fair compensation by others.

Senate Bill 3591 would set up a structure for online news outlets to negotiate with social media platforms to get compensated when someone shares a news story on their news feed.

“This legislation requires big tech to compensate news publishers for use of the news content,” said bill sponsor state Sen. Steve Stadelman, D-Rockford.

The measure is the product of the Illinois Local Journalism Task Force, which was created by legislation in 2021 to evaluate the state of local journalism. A report from the group released in January recommended a variety of policies task force members said could address a decline in the number of reporters and negative economic impacts on publications.

News/Media Alliance CEO Danielle Coffey said SB3591 is needed.

“This broken marketplace must be addressed through government action. Without it, Illinois and the rest of the country will have a very bleak future,” she told the Illinois Senate Executive Committee Wednesday.

Opponents said when news stories are shared on social media, they often do not include the entirety of the contents of a story, just a preview. Others questioned what other causes there are to the downturn of certain legacy media outlets.

Jeff Jarvis, a longtime journalist and professor, questioned the First Amendment implications.

“To require platforms to have a must-carry clause in essence is to say that this is compelled speech, and compelled speech is not free speech,” Jarvis told the committee.

Jarvis said the current proposal will only benefit large publications, not startups. And in locations that have already done this, social media companies ended sharing news stories online, resulting in no loss of traffic for them, but lost traffic to the news outlet.

Stadelman, a former reporter turned legislator, said his idea is not a “link tax” as opponents characterized it.

“They have news content on their feeds. They track advertising dollars. They get personal information from people that go on their sites but however they don’t compensate local news publishers who create that content,” Stadelman said.

State Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, said there are other ways to help out local journalism with tax credits as is found in Senate Bill 3592, but Stadelman’s SB3591 is not the answer.

“It is in fact a tax on Meta or Google because they’re not gaining anything by putting it up there and they’re just going to stop doing it,” Anderson said. “And if you make them continue to do it, which is a whole other legal issue, that is by force and by definition is socialism. I mean, you can’t get around that. That’s exactly what it is.”

The measure remains in committee.

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