It’s no secret that Facebook and Google have a lot of digital advertising power. But that power has a chilling effect on many aspects of the media landscape, especially local journalism.
Zephyr Teachout wants to change that. On Wednesday, the New York attorney general candidate outlined her plan to stop the digital advertising duopoly that’s choking local news.
Teachout fittingly made her stand outside the offices of The New York Daily News, which laid off half of its reporters two days ago. She said all of those jobs could’ve been saved if the “parasites” and “bridge trolls” at Facebook and Google shared their wealth with news organizations.
These firms are “sucking the profits out and making it impossible for local journalism to thrive,” Teachout said. “Before you can cross the bridge to reach the reader, they take a big tax off you.”
That means Facebook and Google make all the money off the content local journalists and publishers create. And it’s a lot of money: Google raked in $95 billion from digital ad sales last year, while Facebook added another $40 billion.
Add to this the fact that while most firms have a profit margin of five or 10 percent, big tech companies have margins around 40 percent. That suggests they’re setting the terms for ad buyers rather than having the terms set for them.
But while Facebook and Google get a big payday, local newsrooms are being decimated. Teachout said this could have an especially worrisome impact on elections, because the amount of coverage will decrease and journalists won’t be able to moderate debates.
As a constitutional lawyer, Teachout said the solution is stronger antitrust protections. If elected, she would work with other attorneys general to determine whether Facebook and Google are abusing their power.
One essential part of this for Teachout is blocking companies from constant mergers. For example, Facebook has monopolized social media by acquiring Instagram and WhatsApp. And at certain points in its history, Google has bought one company a week
“There isn’t actually a competitive market,” Teachout (who ironically streamed her remarks on Facebook Live) said.
Another way to solve the problem is by tackling conflicts of interest. She said it wasn’t fair for Facebook to let large and small news outlets use its platform, while also producing news shows of its own that compete with those established brands.
“Newspapers shouldn’t be begging Facebook and Google for access to readers,” Teachout said.
On the flip side, she said Facebook and Google shouldn’t be lobbying politicians to support their duopoly.
“This is a massive, massive democratic crisis,” Teachout said. “If we don’t deal with the systemic issues that are starving local journalism—if we keep treating issues like those at the Daily News as one-offs—we’re gonna lose local news.”