JCPA Incentivizes Mis- and Dis-Information

The internet has empowered a new era of access to information. Just as important as access to that information is its quality. Platforms like Facebook and Google are dedicated to supporting a safe and trusted internet. Known as content moderation, the practices include labeling, downranking, fact-checking and removing content that is extreme or harmful. This includes content associated with mis- and dis-information, hate speech, terrorism, child sexual abuse materials and more. As the tech industry, academics, civic society and policymakers around the globe debate and consider how to foster free expression and internet safety, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) would endanger progress.

The JCPA is intended to support local journalism, but one of the bill’s many problems is its destruction of online content moderation. Two key principles – “must carry” and “must pay” – will prevent platforms from moderation while simultaneously incentivizing misinformation and extremist content.

“Must carry” means exactly what it says: platforms must carry the link. Platforms would be prevented from removing harmful content that is funded and written by extremists, partisans, conspiracy theorists and more. The definitions of key terms like “publisher” are simply too vague and broad. Extremist content masquerading as “news” likely could not be removed, downranked or fact-checked because platforms would face liability if “publishers” chose to sue them. Publishers can sue for alleged discrimination or retaliation. In practice, less content moderation means more hate speech and more outright false information online.

“Must pay” means exactly what it says: platforms have to pay for the link to the content.  A wide list of so-called “publishers” will qualify for money from tech platforms, including extremist, gossip, fashion, entertainment and sports news or blogs. The legislation doesn’t require news content to be true, verifiable or high-quality. It’s only natural that if a so-called publisher can make a buck, that they will try to. The possibility of big revenues will actually encourage entities and individuals to create more false content, along with misinformation and clickbait.

Between must-carry and must-pay, not only will there be more false information and hate speech, but it will be required by law to stay online.

This hit to content moderation will have real world impact without any tangible boost for local news. Instead of supporting news about local elections, businesses and communities, the JCPA will support clickbait, misinformation, fake and false news. The House and Senate should not move forward with this dangerous legislation on any fronts.