Free Press Calls for Tax on Targeted Ads to Fund Civic-Minded Journalism
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press released “Beyond Fixing Facebook,” a new report that calls for a tax on targeted online advertising to respond to the crisis in journalism and fund diverse, local, independent and noncommercial news and information.
Authors Timothy Karr and Craig Aaron set forth a series of proposals to levy a small tax on ads sold by highly profitable companies like Facebook and Google. The proceeds would go to support local-news startups, sustain investigative projects, seed civic-engagement initiatives, and lift up diverse voices that have long been excluded from traditional media coverage.
“Beyond Fixing Facebook” comes as news organizations are laying off scores of hard-working journalists, even at prominent digital outlets. The local news is worse: Since 2004, about 20 percent of U.S. newspapers have stopped printing, leaving nearly 200,000 newsroom employees without work and at least 900 communities without anyone covering local news.
Facebook and Google’s businesses are built upon a targeted-advertising model that generates hundreds of billions of dollars for online platforms. Such targeted advertising relies on data-harvesting regimes that individuals, groups and government actors have misused in multiple ways. The past year has been rife with high-profile stories of abuse by online platforms, including the unauthorized sharing of personal data and the spread of misinformation and propaganda.
Under one Free Press proposal, a 2 percent ad tax on all online enterprises that in 2018 earned more than $200 million in annual digital-ad revenues would yield more than $1.8 billion a year for a new and independent Public Interest Media Endowment that would hand out grants to news and information projects.
Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Communications Timothy Karr made the following statement:
“Today Free Press is offering an ambitious but achievable proposal that would put journalists back to work and restore some of the valuable news and information communities have lost over the past two decades. And the platforms — plus anybody else getting rich off the attention economy — would pay for it.
“Think of it like a carbon tax, which many countries impose on the oil industry to help clean up pollution. The United States should impose a similar mechanism on targeted advertising to counteract how the platforms undermine journalism and amplify content that’s polluting our civic discourse.
“Online platforms are too deeply vested in data collection and targeted advertising to address the multiple harms their economic model presents. It will require public pressure and government action to hold these companies accountable, and begin to solve the crisis in journalism. It’s time to start demanding the media we need to serve our communities and sustain our democracy.”
Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron made the following statement:
“While our proposal wouldn’t solve all of journalism’s problems — or fix everything that’s wrong with the platforms — a tax on targeted ads would respond to the crisis before us and recognize the vital role noncommercial, independent journalism plays in seeking truth and holding the powerful to account.
“In the past year, executives at both Facebook and Google have pledged to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to support journalism initiatives. But putting the fate of U.S. journalism in the hands of Silicon Valley billionaires is a dangerous game. People would be much better served by a publicly accountable system with a consistent funding mechanism. Making the platforms pay their fair share to help clean up the mess they’ve created is a good way to start.”