On Tuesday morning, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled a comprehensive plan to protect journalism, including new anti-trust campaigns against Facebook and Google and new collective bargaining powers for media companies. But Sanders also calls for a more ambitious idea that floats left-wing policy circles throughout the year: a tax on targeted advertising that would direct money directly from technical giants to local news rooms.
"We need to consider targeting targeted advertising and using the revenue to fund non-profit social media," Sanders said in an op-ed in the Columbia Journalism Review. "We must also explore new ways to enable media organizations to negotiate jointly with these technical monopolies."
Free Press, which first explained the idea of a targeted advertising tax in February, welcomed the announcement. "While companies such as Google and Facebook dominate online advertising, too little money goes from all those clicks to the news production," Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. "It is time for Silicon Valley giants to contribute their fair share and our proposed tax is the best way to collect."
The idea of a targeted advertising tax has received support from unexpected sources, even outside the context of journalism. In May, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Romer called for a targeted advertising tax as an alternative to conventional regulation, a progressively oriented tax – in which rates rise with the targeting scale – could encourage companies to explore alternatives such as ad-free subscriptions. "According to this model, consumers know what they are giving up," Romer wrote, "and the success of the company would not depend on tracking customers with increasingly sophisticated monitoring techniques."
But many in the industry are skeptical about the idea and claim it would increase downstream advertising rates for Facebook and Google customers. "The tax idea that Mr. Romer is floating would affect many more companies than Google and Facebook," says a veteran from the advertising industry wrote in response to Romer & # 39; s op-ed. "It would have a negative impact on the Boston Globeand Pandora, maybe even your favorite cooking blog. & # 39;
Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Much of Sanders & # 39; vision focused on specific economic challenges for journalism, in particular media consolidation. But the senator also called for aggressive antitrust measures against Facebook and Google in particular to be implemented by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
“As for Silicon Valley, I will appoint an Attorney General and Federal Trade Commission officials who will enforce antitrust laws against tech giants such as Facebook and Google more strictly to prevent them from using their huge market power to cannibalize, bilk and defund news organizations & # 39 ;, Sanders wrote. "Their monopolistic power has mainly damaged small, independent news broadcasts that do not have the business infrastructure to fight back."