(CNN) – In 2016, more than a quarter of Americans read online stories
that were "fake news" -- or deliberately false information or
propaganda disguised as actual news reporting, researchers found.
The most successful fake election
news on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from The New
York Times, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others, another
The overall problem of fake news,
however, is much bigger than election interference.
After October's mass shooting in
Las Vegas, the top Google News results included links to fake news and conspiracy theories.
This also happened in the wake of last month's school shooting in Parkland,
Florida, when a top video on YouTube falsely claimed a student who survived the
shooting was a paid actor.
This problem is especially
concerning in light of the fact that nearly three-quarters of Americans access
news online through Facebook and Google, according to the Pew Research Center.
This duopoly -- and the
centralization of information that it creates -- is harming our democracy in
two fundamental ways.
First, the spread of
misinformation on these dominant platforms undermines Americans' confidence in
all news, no matter how credible the source. According to a recent study, trust in the news media has
declined significantly over the past year. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are
concerned they can no longer distinguish fake news from quality journalism
Jonathan Albright, a researcher
at Columbia University's Tow Center for Digital Journalism, recently described this bleak reality as the
disintegration of our "technological and communication infrastructure, the
ways that we experience reality, the ways we get news."
Second, funneling Americans'
access to trustworthy news through two dominant platforms threatens the very
existence of our free press.
Last year, Google and Facebook
reportedly pulled in more than $42 billion from online ads.
That's more than 60% of all online ad revenue.
This heavy thumb on the scales of funding content online is bleeding news
publishers dry, while effectively favoring clickbait and hyper-partisan
sources over valuable breaking news and investigative reporting.
If this trend continues, we risk
permanently compromising the news organizations that are essential to
uncovering corruption, holding the government and powerful corporations
accountable and sustaining our democracy.
With little having changed since
the 2016 presidential election -- and with congressional midterms around the corner
-- it is essential we safeguard trust and valuable news coverage online so that
voters are able to hold elected officials accountable at the polls.
That's why I have introduced the
Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. This bill empowers local
newspapers to negotiate collectively with the biggest technology platforms to
ensure consumers have access to the best journalism possible. It applies to all
news publishers, regardless of size, that produce original editorial content
with a professional news staff, including digital news publishers.
Today, under antitrust laws,
which forbid group boycotts, publishers are prohibited from collectively
negotiating standards for improving trust and withholding content from
platforms that don't meet these standards.
The Journalism Competition and
Preservation Act establishes an exemption for this conduct, so long as it
directly relates to the quality, accuracy, attribution and functionality of
news to the benefit of all news publishers. Without this bill, news publishers
-- including thousands of local newspapers throughout the country -- cannot
negotiate with dominant platforms on equal terms.
So, for example, if local
publishers formed a coalition to improve attribution to local news on Facebook,
such as displaying the news publishers' logo with each article that appears on
Facebook's News Feed, they could do this without incurring liability under the
antitrust laws. If Facebook did not agree to these terms, these publishers
could then withhold their content from Facebook under the bill's narrow
But it's important to remember
this bill isn't legislating the outcome of free market negotiations. It's about
making sure news publishers have an equal voice in negotiations to restore
Our democracy hangs in the
balance. It's critical we get this right.