Meta Doubles Down on Threats to Block News on Facebook and Instagram in Canada

Meta Doubles Down on Threats to Block News on Facebook and Instagram in Canada

Facebook and Instagram could soon be news-free for our neighbours to the north. Meta has once again said it would rather scrap news links on its platforms in Canada than comply with pending legislation.

Canada’s Online News Act, a bill officially called C-18, would force online platforms to pay publishers for their content. In other words: the legislation would make sites like Facebook and Google pay news outlets like Gizmodo a fee for content linked or shared on their platforms. Tech corporations could end up having to pay hundreds of millions of dollars annually to news publishers, under the act. The legislation has passed through House of Commons and is currently being considered in the Senate’s Committee on Transport and Communications. For obvious reasons, tech companies aren’t on board with the potential policy.

Google and Meta alike have been doing their best to protest the bill through lobbying, public statements, and other measures. Google, for instance, began restricting news links in search results for a small percentage of Canadian users in February, during a test that lasted for five weeks. Previously, Meta assured Canadian lawmakers that, if C-18 were to pass, Facebook and Instagram in the country would no longer support news links.

Now, the company has doubled down on that stance in a lengthy public statement from Nick Clegg, Meta’s president of global affairs and former U.K. politician, published Monday.

“The Online News Act is based on a fundamentally flawed premise. Meta does not benefit unfairly from people sharing links to news content on our platform. The reverse is true,” the exec wrote in the blog post. “Ultimately, this legislation puts Meta in an invidious position. In order to comply, we have to either operate in a flawed and unfair regulatory environment, or we have to end the availability of news content in Canada. With a heavy heart we choose the latter. As the Minister of Canadian Heritage has said, this is a business decision,” Clegg added.

The statement outlined Meta’s reasoning behind its stance — reiterating many of the arguments the company has made before. Namely, that news sites need Facebook and Instagram, not the other way around. Clegg repeated claims that just a tiny proportion (about 3%) of Facebook Feed content is made up of news links. Conversely Meta says it has generated “more than $US230 ($319) million” in “free marketing” for news publishers.

According to Meta, Clegg’s statement was initially supposed to be delivered as part of a Canadian Senate committee hearing on Monday. However, after the hearing’s name was changed to “Tech Giants’ Current and Ongoing Use of Intimidation and Subversion Tactics to Evade Regulation in Canada and Across the World,” Clegg backed out and Meta opted to send other representatives in his place. Kevin Chan, the company’s global policy director, and Rachel Curran, Meta’s public policy head for Canada, spoke before the Senate committee instead. 

During the meeting, Curran told legislators that Meta is already working on a content blocking strategy for news links in Canada. Contrary to the chaos the company sowed in Australia in 2021, Curran claimed, this time news removal would be careful and transparent, according to a report from the CBC. “It is absolutely our intention to not make the same errors in Canada that we made in Australia,” the Meta exec said.

Canada is not the first country to float forcing social media platforms and other sites to pay news publishers for hosting their content. Previously, Australian lawmakers were considering a similar bill. In response, Meta blocked news on its platforms countrywide. The move didn’t just end up impacting publishers, it also tanked emergency alert networks — removing things like hospital and fire service pages. Though Curran called that result an “error” during Monday’s meeting, a 2022 report from the Wall Street Journal determined the havoc may have been an intentional move to sway negotiations.

Regardless of whether or not it was deliberate, the Australian news block test had the desired outcome for Meta and its peers. Australia passed a much watered down version of its legislation. If Meta and Google keep forging ahead in Canada, chances are they’ll be able to strong-arm their way to reduced regulations there too.

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