Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Getting Beyond ‘Blah, Blah, Blah’ and Upending Inaction on Climate Change

Ripples from environmental activist Greta Thunberg’s passionate speech in Milan this September were still being felt last week as politicians, diplomats, NGO leaders and youth advocates convened during the World Forum for Democracy at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

In her speech, Thunberg denounced the planet’s “so-called leaders” for failing to do enough to reverse the effects of climate change, slamming their past pledges as decades of political “blah, blah, blah.”

This has triggered resentment from those in power who believe Thunberg has unfairly singled them out.

Those attending the
 World Democracy Forum’s final plenary were asked: “How do we get beyond the ‘blah, blah blah’?” The three-day conference focuses on connecting words to action, with an entire day dedicated to labs where organizations and individuals from across the planet present local initiatives to confront the climate crisis — the focus of this year’s gathering.

A ‘categorical failure’
Thunberg’s speech captured some of the frustration heard from young advocates as the forum unfolded. Many highlighted their innovative grassroots efforts as a forward-looking response.

“There’s been a categorical failure of governments all over the world in fulfilling their duty of care to their people,” said Marijn van de Geer of
 Extinction Rebellion.

Extinction Rebellion has led several UK experiments in deliberative democracy, convening citizen assemblies as a way to give people a way to make political decisions when their elected representatives are too slow to respond. Advocates have convened similar assemblies in France, Poland, Sweden and elsewhere.

“At the local level democracy is growing,” said Marcin Gerwin of the
 Center for Climate Assemblies, which has gathered thousands in local assemblies across Poland. “At the national level it’s a different story.”

Spat out
Sarah El Haïry, the French minister of state for youth and engagement, took exception to Thunberg’s assertion that government officials aren’t doing enough. A former member of the French National Assembly, El Haïry felt that dismissing the speech of leaders as just more blah, blah, blah was ugly and offensive. It’s as though the words were being spat out, she said in response to my question.

For her part, Minister El Haïry listed her efforts to engage French youth in the political process and expressed her disappointment at their reluctance to exercise their right to vote. According to figures from nationwide municipal elections held at the end of this summer,
 just 13 percent of 18–24 year olds in France turned out at the polls.

But perhaps Minister El Haïry misses the point. Trying to get beyond the blah, blah, blah is not a direct criticism of her leadership, but of the world’s representative democracies, where too many politicians care more about the the short-term challenges of getting reelected or maintaining their party’s majority than they are with taking on the decades-long struggle of combating climate crisis.

Youth power
Perhaps the answer lies with young people, those who have the greatest stake in ensuring a healthy future for our planet. Do we get beyond the blah blah blah by giving more political agency to youth?

Rhys Nugent, a youth delegate from Wales, said “It is often said, ‘young people should have a seat at the table.’ No, we should be setting the table.” In other words, young people are too often asked to take part in climate actions after decisions have already been made, Nugent said. They’re not recognized as having the power to create, organize and lead, and that needs to change.

And what about those who aren’t even represented by a democracy? People in the Global South and Indigenous cultures are suffering the most from the climate crisis. We’ve heard the blah, blah, blah from leaders of representative democracies. That shouldn’t drown out the firsthand experiences and needs of those in countries like the Maldives, Myanmar and Nigeria who are struggling each day to survive.

Paradigm shift

Getting beyond the blah, blah, blah means we don’t just need a political shift towards the unrepresented, but an economic and cultural one.

Dragan Jonic of Serbia’s
 Defend the Rivers of the Stara Planina said we must ask questions about the so-called green economy: Is it enough to recycle plastic and use paper straws? How can we move away from a mass consumer-driven economy and a global supply chain to economies that are more local and sustainable?

An even more pressing question: Is an economy driven by free-market principles more important than the survival of our planet? Usmanu Sali of Cameroon’s
 Mbororo Social and Cultural Development Association said that forming alliances where ownership of land is shared among competing ethnic groups fosters a more sustainable and peaceful relationship among those occupying the same region.

In Sali’s region of the country, there have been violent conflicts between herders and farmers. Sali helps mediate this conflict by negotiating shared use of the land, bringing down fences that demarcate ownership and can incite violence.

“With the climate crisis and COVID-19 the time has come to revisit the social-economic contract,” said Maria Logotheti of Greece’s Democracy & Culture Foundation, which engages people in democratic decision making and develops grassroots leadership. “At the very basis of our project is the understanding that it must be based on a bottom-up approach.”

“Of course we need constructive dialogue but they’ve had 30 years of ‘blah, blah blah’ and where has that led us,” Thunberg said in September. “If this is what they consider to be climate action then we don’t want it.”

Many attending the World Forum for Democracy in Strasbourg channeled Thunberg’s frustrations. Yes, talking about the problem is needed, but only as long as those discussions include those who are rarely heard from in representative democracies and during global political summits.

And talk should link to action against the problem at the heart of the climate crisis: a political system where the financial incentives of the most powerful industry in the world still hold sway.

Getting beyond the blah, blah, blah means shutting off the pipeline of cash that connects the energy sector to the world’s political class. And it requires a systemic shift in the understanding of how incentives driving the marketplace threaten the future of our planet.

Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy at the U.S.-based media-democracy organization Free Press. He served as a general rapporteur for this year’s World Forum for Democracy.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Media Outlets Flood the Zone With News of Facebook's Failure

The many exposés reveal a toxic but highly profitable revenue model that's driving Facebook’s reluctance to safeguard democracy and stop the spread of hate and disinformation.

If you decided to take a breather this weekend from the relentless stream of Facebook news, you've got a lot of catching up to do.

Since Friday afternoon, several prominent outlets rushed to press with stories drawn from the trove of internal Facebook documents provided by whistleblower Frances Haugen. These stories offer shocking insights into Facebook's coverup of its role in the democracy-destabilizing spread of hate and disinformation, especially in the aftermath of the 2020 U.S. elections.

By Monday, another dozen reports were added to the pile, including important reporting by Bloomberg and USA Today on Facebook's inability to curb the amplification of hate speech or prevent conspiracy theorists from gaming its algorithms to spread their toxic messages across the company's networks.

What's going on here?

Since early October, a consortium of 18 news outlets, including the Associated Press, The Atlantic, CNN, NBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have been sifting through tens of thousands of Haugen's documents, with a plan to publish reports in some synchronized fashion.

Profits over people

The weekend crop of stories were a part of that push. Nearly all of them reveal Facebook executives' reluctance to fix the problem at the heart of the company's dangerous but profitable business: a revenue model that puts engagement and growth before the health and welfare of a multiracial democracy.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported on a rebellion that "erupted" inside the offices of Facebook on Jan. 6 as employees grew frustrated with the company's unwillingness to address the rise of pro-Trump political extremism across its platforms following the 2020 elections.

At CNN, Donie O'Sullivan, Tara Subramaniam and Clare Duffy reported that Facebook was "fundamentally unprepared" to curtail the Stop the Steal movement, which grew out of the false belief that the election was rigged and that Trump was the "true president."

Spokespeople and organizers for this anti-democratic campaign used Facebook's platforms to turn out people at events that led to the deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol. Even worse, the company provided the basic coordinating infrastructure that mobilized people and incited them to violence. In a damning news clip tied to CNN's report, O'Sullivan asked participants in the insurrection how they heard about or helped organize the attack. Their answer: via Facebook groups and event pages.

NBC, The New York Times and NPR reported on the efforts of a Facebook researcher who created an imaginary user, Carol Smith of North Carolina, to test the platform's engagement algorithms. The researcher offered a few details about Smith, including that she was a Trump supporter and followed the conservative accounts of Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group.

"Within one week, Smith's feed was full of groups and pages that had violated Facebook's own rules, including those against hate speech and disinformation," reports NBC's Brandy Zadrozny. These included several recommendations that Smith join groups dedicated to spreading far-right QAnon conspiracy theories or others espousing support for a coming race war.

Too big (and profitable) to fix

By Monday, Bloomberg reported that Facebook executives have long known that the company's hate-speech problem was far bigger and more entrenched than they had disclosed.

Last March, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg assured Congress that "more than 98 percent of the hate speech that we take down is done by [artificial intelligence] and not by a person." But Facebook employees warned that those numbers were misleading. Neither the company's human reviewers nor its automated systems were that good at flagging most hateful content.

"In practice, the company was only removing 5 percent or less of hate speech, the documents suggest," Bloomberg reported.

Zuckerberg and many of his spokespeople continue to say the violence that resulted from the spread of hate and disinformation is the fault of those who physically harmed others during the insurrection and at other times—but this new series of reports assigns significant blame to Facebook executives.

"Unquestionably, [Facebook] is making hate worse," Haugen told members of the UK Parliament on Monday. "I think there is a view inside the company that safety is a cost center, it's not a growth center, which I think is very short-term in thinking because Facebook's own research has shown that when people have worse integrity experiences on the site, they are less likely to retain [them]."

Facebook isn't capable of such farsightedness. Yes, its constant hunt for short-term growth may ultimately sabotage the social-media giant's long-term survival. But can we really afford to wait for Facebook to fix itself?

As news organizations continue to publish stories exposing Facebook's failures, more and more lawmakers and regulators have called for an investigation of a business model that profits from the spread of the most extreme hate and disinformation.

Fixing the model is the right approach. But it's a repair that Facebook will never do on its own.

Talking Facebook (I Mean Meta), Frances Haugen, the Media Exposé, and What This all Means to Washington

The following is an edited snippet of my conversation with Janine Jackson of CounterSpin and FAIR. You can listen to the entire conversation here.

Timothy Karr: Facebook’s unofficial motto used to be “move fast and break things,” and we now know because of these documents is that the things that it has broken include the lives of people in places like the Philippines, Myanmar and Ethiopia. Facebook also moved fast and broke trust in our democratic institutions and emergency health care systems. They thought that they could hide these facts and we owe it to this whistleblower to have brought these things to light.

Janine Jackson: One takeaway from these revelations is that communities of color are really at risk for hate, harassment and violence that Facebook foments intentionally.     

Timothy Karr: There’s been a real failure when its comes to non-English disinformation that’s spread over the network. And it’s not only a problem in countries like India, in the Middle East and North Africa, in Myanmar and Ethiopia and elsewhere, it’s a problem in the United States where we have a number of diaspora communities who don’t speak English and often rely on Facebook in their own languages as a source of news and information. And Facebook just hasn’t dedicated its resources to vetting those languages. So we find that the spread of disinformation on COVID, or on the 2020 elections results for example is far worse in non-English speaking communities that use Facebook.

Janine Jackson: I wonder if you would talk about what serious responses to the harms that have been revealed about Facebook, what that might look like.

Timothy Karr: A lot of the interesting work that’s being done in Congress is about looking at the business model, a model that puts engagement and growth before the health and welfare of a multiracial democracy. And we need to start questioning the way data are used and to start questioning how data are abused in discriminatory ways…. There is a role not only for Congress to push for transparency, but transparency is only a part of the picture. We need also to make sure that if data are being collected that they are being used to protect the civil rights of individuals and can’t be used in discriminatory ways. The FTC also has the authority to conduct a rule-making process about how not just Facebook but other social media platforms use data. We've been very involved in organizing support in Congress and at the FTC to create a stronger regulatory framework to prevent these types of abuses from occurring again.     

Friday, May 07, 2021

World Press Freedom During the U.S. Tech Boom


On Monday many observed World Press Freedom Day, a chance for people everywhere to assess the global health of a free press and the future of journalism.

As the world marked the occasion, the world’s largest tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Google, reported their quarterly earnings. The news for them is very, very good: Their streak of 
trillion-dollar earnings in 2020 is expected to continue to grow through 2021.

But what’s good news for these tech giants is bad news for most traditional news outlets around the world.

The 
New York Times reports that U.S. tech giants are “making bonkers dollars” because of the coronavirus, not in spite of it. The effects of the pandemic have been very different for the world’s newsrooms, which have seen an uptick in layoffs and closures since the beginning of 2020 due to the economic downturn and the continuing decline of advertising in newsprint.

The global ad market now revolves around a new core: the algorithmically targeted placements offered by the likes of Facebook and Google. In comparison to traditional media advertising, this technology is a far more economical way to put products (or ideas) before people who are most likely to buy (or support) them.

Quality local journalism has gotten lost in the reshuffle of the advertising economy. These digital-advertising platforms don’t need to employ reporters or produce news content to reach their intended audiences. The latest numbers reflect this change: eMarketer projects that global ad-spending will top $695 billion in 2021, and that more than 56 percent of that will be payments to online advertisers that typically don’t produce local-news content.

To understand what this means, It’s useful to think of U.S. tech companies as extraction industries that take advertising revenues out of local-news economies.

Lawmakers around the world have responded by crafting policies to “make Big Tech pay” for the damage it’s doing to legacy news production.

The 
News Media Bargaining Code in Australia and the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act in the United States are examples of this response. In effect, these policies seek to force tech platforms into payment negotiations with large outlets in exchange for linking to their content.

Earlier this year, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. leveraged the mere threat of these rules to secure a three-year deal with Google that would provide access to the publisher’s empire of news content in exchange for “
significant payments” from the search giant.

But is facilitating payment negotiations between new and old media giants really the answer?

The reality is that the market-driven model that once fueled traditional news production isn’t sustainable in a world where attention has become the main commodity.

Any policy solution that merely props up the media’s old model is simply prolonging the life of a commercial news system that 
never really served all of the people.

“More than simply placing regulatory patches on broken commercial systems, we must intervene at media’s very foundations,” argues media scholar 
Victor Pickard. He calls for regulatory support of “a positive program that provides robust, diverse, and reliable news and information to all communities — and these communities should be centrally involved in governing and making their own media.”

Free Press believes that creating a diverse and thriving news sector in the United States can be achieved by 
imposing a tax on online-advertising revenues that fuel the platforms and the attention economy.

The resulting revenue would be placed in a Public Interest Media Endowment and used to fund the kinds of local, independent and noncommercial news that’s gone missing from too many communities. For example, a 2-percent ad tax on the 2020 U.S. advertising revenues of the 10 largest platforms would yield more than $2 billion for the endowment — that’s more than four times the annual funding the U.S. government provides for public media.

This is just one approach that can be modified by other nations facing the journalism crisis. There are many others: Lawmakers in 
Canada and the United States have proposed the use of tax credits to help fund local journalism. Such proposals are evidence that lawmakers are getting serious about the issue — but these plans won’t deliver the levels of support needed to rescue local news.

Any policy solution must be built on the fundamental belief that public-interest journalism is a social good, that it is essential infrastructure for democracy, and that governments must play a central role in funding this infrastructure if they hope to see democracy thrive.

As we recognize press freedom this week, we should take action to ensure that it gets the support it needs to survive.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Tucker Carson's Racism: Paid for by You


Racism pays in America — especially if you’re the primetime host of a cable channel that panders to the country’s sizable population of white nationalists.

Fox News struck bigotry gold when it offered its 8 p.m. time slot to Tucker Carlson, who returned the favor by routinely fanning the flames of hatred against
 immigrants, Muslim and Jewish people, Black and Brown people, the LGBTQIA+ community and anyone else he considers threats to his supremacist world view.

While
 Tucker Carlson Tonight is among Fox News’ most-watched shows, it’s not his viewers alone who pay Carlson’s $10-million salary. Nor is it advertisers who’ve left the program in droves, refusing to have their products featured adjacent to Carlson’s bile.

Carlson’s enormous paycheck comes out of the pockets of millions of people who never watch his show or anything else on Fox. And there’s very little they can do to customize their cable so it excludes media properties owned by the Murdoch family.

Earlier this week, investigative journalist
 Judd Legum wrote about this dilemma: While the vast majority of cable-TV subscribers don’t watch Fox News, all of them pay on average $1.72 a month to receive it as part of the standard bundle of channels offered by the likes of Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon. When you lump in Fox Corporation’s other cable properties, including Fox Business News, FS1 and FS2, this monthly payout exceeds $2 per subscriber.

For those keeping count, that’s $1.6 billion in 2020 revenue for Fox News alone — about 57 percent of the station’s total revenue.

Legum asks: “How can Americans who don’t watch Fox News and find Tucker Carlson’s conduct repugnant stop subsidizing his $10 million salary?”

It’s a good question. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as it should be.

Hate-free bundles?
Legum suggests that cable companies could simply offer a package of cable channels that excludes Fox News — something I’ve referred to previously as a “hate-free bundle.” Subscribers could opt to exclude other purveyors of hate and disinformation (think One America and Newsmax). Pay-TV providers in turn would negotiate Fox carriage fees that are much lower than the wildly excessive amounts these companies now pay the Murdochs.

Muhlenberg College Media and Communications
 Professor John Sullivan says such an offering is common in stock trading, where “you can choose a ‘socially responsible’ mutual fund to avoid investing in stocks that include oil companies or do business with questionable regimes around the world.”

Why can’t we do the same with the cable channels we pay to receive? Subscribers could shave a couple of bucks off their monthly bills by refusing to help line Carlson’s pockets or fund the Murdochs’ hate-for-profit business model.

It’s not for lack of trying. In 2015,
 Verizon attempted to break the bundle by offering a discounted “skinny” package, with its FIOS customers selecting 10–17 channels in addition to must-carry local channels and public outlets.

But the plan quickly
 ran afoul of Big Media after Disney and ESPN sued Verizon, claiming that giving consumers choices in this way violated providers’ carriage agreements.

Now, the “Skinny Bundle” isn’t that skinny: Verizon allows subscribers to pick five stations, while the pay-TV giant loads on
 120 additional channels (yes, including Fox News).

Subsidizing fascism
Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jerry McNerney of California sent letters to each of the dominant pay-TV services asking why they were doing nothing in response to the hate and disinformation aired by some of their standard offerings of cable channels.

The lawmakers asked whether and why each service planned to continue carrying Fox News, Newsmax and One America News when they revisited carriage-fee negotiations with the owners of these outlets.

Until companies like AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon step up to break the bundle — or we see policy changes favoring consumer “
a la carte” — cutting the cord is the only option for those who don’t want a cent of their monthly bills to subsidize hate and disinformation.

But that isn’t easy. Some who’ve chosen to cut the cord and receive TV “over the top” — via their high-speed internet connection — have
 customized their viewing options to exclude Fox News. But many of the over-the-top streaming options on offer by pay-TV providers bundle in Fox News; many of these options don’t offer a la carte.

Regardless, the vast majority of people in the United States still opt for cable or satellite TV;
 cord-cutters are in the minority.

Until they’re given more choice, viewers in the United States
 need to be clear with the companies that sell them their pay-TV bundles: Paying the Murdochs for content is the modern-day equivalent of subsidizing fascism. “No rhetorical wiggle room should be allowed,” writes Oliver Willis of Media Matters for America.

Long term, we need a
 serious reckoning with how we got the media system we have, where commercial media collude to push white-supremacist content that harms Black and Brown communities.

We must repair the damage done and rebuild more diverse and democratic media. We can start by
 turning off the cable cash spigot that fuels big-media bigotry.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Journalism Won’t Be Saved a Link at a Time

Last spring, just as the first surge in the COVID-19 pandemic was peaking, Amy Brothers was busy at The Denver Post covering the fallout across Colorado.

“I really loved my job,” Brothers tweeted. “Going out into our community and telling your stories, on your best days and your hardest always inspired me.” 

But that came to an abrupt end one Friday in April. Without warning, Brothers’ bosses at The Post laid off the video journalist along with 12 other newsroom colleagues, all casualties of the plummeting ad spending that struck local-news operations across the country.

“The interesting thing about covering a pandemic is that it’s a national story, but also completely local,” Brothers later told me. “But with fewer resources, you have to choose between the number of articles you can report and the depth of those articles.”...

(Read the entire story at TruthOut

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Local Laws Are 'Laboratories' for Taxing Big Tech

Earlier this year, Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer spoke about the benefits of taxing platforms like Facebook and Google to help suppress Big Tech’s dominance and spur competition.

Romer said that you can get there by levying a “pigovian tax” on digital ads. In general terms, a pigovian tax is one that’s levied against any market activity that generates “negative externalities” — or bad consequences across society. 

In Romer’s interpretation, such a tax could be progressive when applied to online platforms; the marginal tax rate would increase relative to a given firm’s market dominance. Companies that are becoming more dominant would be taxed at a rate that discourages further control (and the “negative externalities” that result from it). Meanwhile, smaller competitors would pay a far lower rate, fostering their ability to provide an alternative to consumers.

Romer holds up taxation legislation in Maryland as a worthy approach that might inspire other legislatures in the United States and abroad. The state is on the cusp of implementing legislation that would impose a 2.5–10-percent tax on in-state digital advertising.

“It makes perfect sense for them to try and claw back for the citizens of Maryland revenue which has been sucked out of their state and is going to San Francisco, New York, Seattle, and a few other places,” Romer said during a Stigler Center webinar.

In a 2019 Op-Ed for The New York Times, Romer writes that taxing Big Tech is a superior strategy to pursuing antitrust law or regulation. Though U.S. antitrust law may address harms caused by price gouging, he writes, it’s not an effective remedy for other platform harms — such as “undermining the institutions of democracy.”

Laboratories for democracy
There’s a facet of the Maryland tax that Romer doesn’t mention: the funneling of resulting revenues to support a specific remedy. For example, money from Maryland’s proposed tax — estimated to reach $250 million in the first year — will go to the state’s public schools.

While Romer’s version of a pigovian tax might help curb Big Tech’s runaway growth, it’s unclear how that would address many of the anti-democratic harms caused by the targeted-advertising model that forms the economic backbone of online companies big and small.

Maryland lawmakers rightly see better-funded education as a possible fix to the “negative externalities” of Big Tech’s algorithmic amplification — which fuels the spread of disinformation and hate, and incites anti-democratic violence.

Others, including Free Press, believe a tax on algorithmic ad revenues should be levied to support the robust production of news content — with an emphasis on local journalism, noncommercial outlets and other news for underserved communities.

As much as anywhere, the platforms’ negative impacts are felt in journalism: As Facebook and Google have come to dominate the new-media economy, the independent, local journalism that people need to debunk online conspiracies and participate in democracy continues to disappear from communities.

Romer says state legislatures and city councils — and not the executive or judicial branches of the federal government — are the “least bad” ways to do this; they are akin to “laboratories of democracy.”

“If we can allow local taxation we can see some innovation,” Romer adds, “and we can learn from their experience as we approach a kind of national consensus.”

What Maryland is doing should prove a good model for other states to follow and adapt. Congress should pay attention, too.

Free Press Action encourages any lawmakers who take up legislation to tax Big Tech to also consider how the resulting monies should be spent locally. If the impetus for taxes is to make dominant platforms more accountable to the public, the resulting tax money should address the crisis in journalism these companies have worsened.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Cutting Deals with Big Tech Won't Save Journalism


This week, Australia will put the finishing touches on a plan to force Google and Facebook to pay millions of dollars to local news publishers in exchange for featuring their content on their powerful platforms.

Many in the news industry are hailing Australia’s bargaining code as a way to bring Big Tech to the table and save journalism at a time when news outlets are struggling.

And to the table Big Tech has come, but its response hasn’t been helpful.

Last Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. announced that it had struck a three-year deal with Google that would provide access to the company’s empire of news content in exchange for “significant payments” from the search giant. That’s a windfall for a conglomerate that’s notorious worldwide for serving its news with heaping portions of disinformation and bigotry.

Facebook responded with the nuclear option: Instead of settling on a fee it prevented any of its users from sharing links to Australian news sources. For several days it was impossible to post news from Australian sources; Facebook’s heavy-handed info blackout extended to government health sites providing critical COVID-19 vaccination information to Australians.

Australia’s bargaining code is an early foray by lawmakers seeking to reset the balance of power between tech platforms and a news industry that’s failing to keep pace with the digital economy. This accounting is important — and governments should be doing more to make these massive online networks compensate for the damage they have done to democratic society — but there are better ways forward for Australia and other countries weighing similar measures to support journalism. Murdoch and others in the newspaper industry are pushing to reintroduce legislation in the United States (what some call “Murdoch’s Law”) which would also force a payment negotiation between powerful U.S.-based news businesses and Silicon Valley.

There are several reasons the Australian experiment won’t work in the United States. If the initial reaction from Google and Facebook is any indication, it doesn’t appear to be working too well for Australia either.

Looming in the background of this debate are major shifts in the economics of news production. The U.S. ad industry has moved away from buying placements in traditional media entities that produced news (like newspapers) toward cheaper, more finely targeted options offered by digital platforms that don’t (like Facebook and Google).

Allowing the most powerful media conglomerates to negotiate payments from the most powerful tech conglomerates is an attempt to rebalance the equation. But giving handouts to News Corp. won’t help the sorts of local, civic-minded news outlets and reporters who have suffered most under this new digital economy. And funding traditional news operations doesn’t meet the needs of communities of color and working-class families, who’ve been long overlooked or misrepresented by U.S. media.

We can’t solve the platform-dominance problem and the journalism-funding problem with a solution that makes both problems worse. Turning every instance of link sharing into a government-mandated monetary transaction would forever alter the fundamental openness of the internet. We need to invest in new journalism — not entrenched corporate power and gatekeeping.

Taxing the attention economy
The best way to do that is by supporting innovations in news production that put journalists back to work, and better connect them with the people and communities they report on. At Free Press Action we’ve put forth better remedies for the United States, including a proposal for a tax on online advertising. The resulting revenue would be placed in a Public Interest Media Endowment and used to fund the kinds of diverse, local, independent and noncommercial news and information that have gone missing.

For example, a 2-percent ad tax on 2020 advertising revenues of the top-10 online platforms would yield more than $2 billion for the endowment. As Facebook’s, Google’s and Amazon’s share of the digital advertising space increases, so would its tax commitment to help save journalism.

Others have put forth ideas for the future of journalism that also deserve attention from lawmakers. We can’t let these be shunted to the side in favor of a legislative proposal that’s being pushed in Australia and the United States by the Murdochs and other media oligarchs.

Instead, we need strong public-media laws that prioritize a free press, civic-minded news production and the interests of the communities news outlets are supposed to serve.

It’s increasingly clear that market-based solutions for news production aren’t helping foster a more equitable and inclusive democracy. In the United States, commercial media share a sizable portion of the blame for the rise of Donald Trump — and, with him, Trump-style white nationalism.

What happened in the 20th century, when local print, radio and TV outlets were the best way for advertisers to target local audiences, was a historical fluke. Attempts to rebuild or insulate that old-media model in the 21st century are a fool’s errand. Future solutions must involve new hybrid private- and public-sector models, or direct public funding for journalism, so long as it includes guardrails to protect the editorial independence of news organizations on the receiving end.

Incentivizing these sorts of funding models is the right path away from a commercial-media system dominated by too few players. While Australia’s proposal is a sincere attempt to make Facebook and Google pay for the harm they’ve caused journalism, it’s not the final word. Nor should it be.