X/Twitter Ditches News Snippets. French Publishers Accuse Musk of Skirting the Rules

The war between French publishers and the internet is continuing thanks to Elon Musk’s decision for X/Twitter to ditch snippets.

When the Canadian government passed Canada’s link tax law (AKA Bill C-18), the passage happened as the platforms said that news links will become a thing of the past for them. Specifically, this affected Google and Meta platforms. Meta responded in the most obvious way imaginable by dropping news links in Canada. The move completely demolished arguments that Meta depends too heavily on news links and would die off overnight without news links. This despite the mountains of evidence that disagreed with that notion.

The international reaction to all of this was to start asking how they can avoid being like Canada. Rather than becoming a gold standard that the delusional Bill C-18 supporter was hoping, Canada became an object lesson on what not to do in terms of lawmaking. While the main question was how to avoid being ‘like Canada’, the answer to that question is actually quite simple: don’t pass link tax laws period. Link tax laws are absolutely ridiculous and generally based on false premises and ignorance to how the internet really works.

The advice is sound and, what’s more, there appears to be an excellent example of this outside of North America. In France, French publishing giant, AFP, sued Twitter for not paying Frances version of the link tax. Specifically, the French laws target snippets of actual articles. In response, Musk apparently ditched snippets according to TechDirt:

Anyway, the latest, as first reported by Kylie Robison at Fortune, is that Elon wants to remove headlines and snippets from news articles posted to exTwitter. When an Elon stan tweeted about Robison’s article, Musk confirmed it and said it was coming from him “directly” and it will be done to “greatly improve esthetics.” From Robison’s article:

The change means that anyone sharing a link on X—from individual users to publishers—would need to manually add their own text alongside the links they share on the service; otherwise the tweet will display only an image with no context other than an overlay of the URL. While clicking on the image will still lead to the full article on the publisher’s website, the change could have major implications for publishers who rely on social media to drive traffic to their sites as well as for advertisers.

According to a source with knowledge of the matter, the change is being pushed directly by X owner Elon Musk. The primary objective appears to be to reduce the height of tweets, thus allowing more posts to fit within the portion of the timeline that appears on screen. Musk also believes the change will help curb clickbait, the source said.

“It’s something Elon wants. They were running it by advertisers, who didn’t like it, but it’s happening,” the source said, adding that Musk thinks articles occupy excessive space on the timeline.

While the premise was about supposed aesthetics of a post (which makes absolutely no sense out of the context of what’s going on in France), it seems that the design decision riled up the organizations that just so happened to be going after Musk in the first place. AFP is accusing Musk of somehow skirting the laws by not hosting snippets. TechDirt also noted this in a more recent post:

As we discussed both the law and this lawsuit are incredibly stupid. Even if we accept that France has this law, the lawsuit still makes no sense. If AFP doesn’t want snippets to appear on exTwitter IT SHOULD NEVER HAVE SET UP TWITTER CARDS for its site. But it did. So, AFP is suing exTwitter for something that AFP itself setup. It’s incredibly stupid.

So, look, the AFP lawsuit is completely unjust. Even if ignoring how stupid France’s neighboring rights law is, AFP shouldn’t get away for suing exTwitter for actions that AFP themselves setup by enabling the Twitter cards.

But, French media publishers are already claiming that this new move to get rid of snippets altogether is the company trying to get out of complying with the law:

Musk’s decision to scrap headlines and texts is “not surprising,” Emmanuel Parody, secretary-general of content providers lobby GESTE, told POLITICO. By doing so, the online platform effectively “removes the last things” that would have ensured it’s covered by the copyright rules.

But… that makes no sense. First off, even with the coincidental timing of the AFP lawsuit and then the removal of snippets, I’m still not convinced Musk would completely ditch all snippets globally, just because of a stupid French law (other countries implementing similar neighboring rights laws are generally basing it on the links themselves, rather than the snippets).

And, if Musk was doing it to avoid the French snippet tax, he should straight up say that, because (like Meta and Google are doing in Canada) it helps let the public know what stupid corrupt laws politicians are passing to create a system to funnel money from successful internet companies to lazy, failed, media publishers.

This outcome is obvious – especially in light of what has been going on in Canada. If you are going to set up a link tax that targets links on platforms, then platforms are going to ditch news links. If you are going to set up a link tax that demands a tax on snippets, then platforms are going to ditch snippets. While the attitude we’ve repeatedly seen is that the large media companies are the centre of attention and that the whole world revolves around them, the reality is very far removed from that. Platforms see little value in news content appearing on their platforms because human connection is significantly more valuable in the end to them. This is something large platforms have in spades and is continuing to help make them as profitable as they are.

So, really, when the large media companies come knocking in an obvious rent seeking mission, the platforms are just going to drop your content entirely or in whatever chunks the media companies think the platforms are, for instance, ‘unjustly profiting from’, to paraphrase some Bill C-18 supporters. Can media companies pass variations of a link tax? Of course. That is obvious in multiple countries. The problem is that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In these cases, this idea should never have taken off at all and media companies are risking cutting off of their noses to spite their faces.

Global supporters, unfortunately, continuously believe that if every country passes similar laws, then the platforms have no choice but to comply. This, again, based on the false assumption that the platforms are profitable solely because of news content. The reality is that as more countries pass these types of laws, media companies will increasingly find themselves kicked out of prominent parts of the internet. There’s no such thing as a free lunch and the link tax concept is no exception to that. The platforms ultimately have no real reason to follow along and pay out unlimited money to the news publishers for what amounts to no good reason. If every country passes a link tax, the platforms are simply going to respond by saying, “fine, no more links”. This isn’t rocket science.

What we do know is that, on this debate, Canada is a lost cause. It’s not a matter of if Meta and Google drop news links, but when. With Meta already carrying this out and Google set to follow suit sometime after, the Canadian media companies have already punched their ticket. There’s nothing left for them to do but “enjoy” the ride. Other countries can avoid this fate by dropping the concept of link taxes all together. The question is whether or not they’ll heed the warning or just run the risk of repeating history. If repeating history is in order, then media companies in other countries are in for similar “finding out” at some point in the future.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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