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Meta to block access to news on Facebook, Instagram if Online News Act adopted as-is

Canadians would no longer be able to access news on Facebook or Instagram if the federal government’s proposed Online News Act passes in its current form, the parent company behind the two popular social media platforms said.

Meta spokesperson Lisa Laventure shared the decision in an email on Saturday, saying the bill’s current provisions would place the company in an untenable position.

“A legislative framework that compels us to pay for links or content that we do not post, and which are not the reason the vast majority of people use our platforms, is neither sustainable nor workable,” she wrote.

Tech giants such as Meta and Google have long fought against the proposed law known as Bill C-18, which would require digital giants like them to negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies, potentially including the CBC, for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.

Large Canadian media companies and the federal Liberal government have supported the bill, saying it would level the playing field for news outlets that compete with tech firms for advertising dollars.

“Once again, it’s disappointing to see that Facebook has resorted to threats instead of working with the Canadian government in good faith,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement.

“This tactic didn’t work in Australia, and it won’t work here.”

Minister of Canadian Heritage and Quebec Lieutenant Pablo Rodriguez rises during question period in the House of Commons.
Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez says Meta is resorting to threats. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

His remarks were a reference to Facebook’s move to block access to news in Australia after a similar law was discussed in 2021. The tech company quickly backtracked after the Australian government made changes to an arbitration mechanism in the bill.

But the company has since threatened to block news access in other countries such as the United States, where Congress was considering similar legislation last year known as the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

Facebook says news only small part of offering

Facebook has been floating the potential to block news access in Canada for many months as Bill C-18 wound through parliament.

Marc Dinsdale, Meta Canada’s head of media partnerships, raised the idea in an October 2022 statement, where he argued the proposed legislation presumes his company “unfairly benefits from its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true.”

He claimed posts with links to news articles made up less than three per cent of what people see in their Facebook feed and said Canadians tell his company they want to see less news and political content on its platforms.

“We have repeatedly shared with the government that news content is not a draw for our users and is not a significant source of revenue for our company,” he said.

But Rodriguez and publishers have argued tech companies are snatching advertising revenues away from media companies.

A 2018 report from the Canadian Media Concentration Project revealed Google had snagged half the country’s internet advertising market share that year, with Facebook trailing at 27.3 per cent and Bell, Torstar, Twitter and Postmedia sitting at under two per cent each.

That equates to $3.8 billion in advertising revenue for Google, up from $2.8 billion in 2016.

Facebook made $2.1 billion in advertising in 2018, while Bell made $146 million, Torstar earned $120 million, Twitter got $117.5 million and Postmedia made $116.4 million.

Google, MPs clash in parliamentary committee

Yet Facebook has argued that it is helping publishers rather than harming them.

The company’s feed delivered more than 1.9 billion clicks worth $230 million to publishers in the 12 months leading up to April 2022, Dinsdale said.

This content was all voluntarily placed on Facebook by publishers, he added.

“We are being asked to acquiesce to a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want to supply at a price with no clear limits,” he wrote.

WATCH | MPs criticize Google over news blocking:

During a committee meeting, Sabrina Geremia, vice president and country manager of Google Canada, responds to questions from Conservative MP Kevin Waugh about Google’s recent move to block some users’ news links in Canada.

“No business can operate this way.”

But Rodriguez said Canadians “won’t be intimidated” by Meta’s tactics.

“All Facebook has done up to this point is show up at committee, delay, obstruct, refuse to answer questions, and threaten Canadians,” he said.

“We’ve always said we’re open to working with Facebook, and we still are.”

Google recently began a five-week test that limited access to news for some Canadian users. It is set to end March 16.

At a House of Commons heritage committee meeting on the bill on Friday, Sabrina Geremia, the head of Google Canada, argued the proposed legislation would “radically change” the framework her company uses to host free news links.

“The bill is a moving target, with key questions left unanswered,” she said. “We don’t know if we will be able to continue to link to news as we do today, so we are testing potential changes to the way we currently freely link to news under that framework.”

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