What’s going on with news on Meta and what does it mean for Canadian news?
By Julie Patton, News Editor
Canadians are left with questions after being notified by Instagram and Facebook, social media platforms under Meta, that news content will no longer be available on the app. Many are attributing the action to government control as a tool to dampen the spread of misinformation.
However, Gabriela Perdomo, assistant professor of journalism at Mount Royal University (MRU) and editor-in-chief at J-Source, explains that that is not the case. It’s something else entirely.
“Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, was signed into law on June 22 . The law seeks to help Canada’s media industry by requiring that ‘digital intermediaries,’ or tech platforms that share content produced by domestic publishers, pay a fee for that content,” she says.
“In response to the Act—or more like in protest against it— Google and Meta… have started blocking Canadian news content on their platforms.”
Although it may seem like the government is pulling news content off the platforms, it’s actually the platforms themselves because they do not want to abide by the new ruling that they share some of their ad profits with the companies that produce the content.
So, how’s this supposed to work?
“The government’s rationale is that, at a time when more and more people are accessing news through online platforms, Google and Meta have come to draw 80 per cent of all digital advertising revenue in Canada,” Perdomo says.
“The Online News Act is seeking to address that imbalance by making Google and Meta share some of their ad profits with the companies that produce the content.”
In Canada, newsrooms have laid off hundreds of workers due to dwindling revenues, which had historically come from ads and classifieds. If the tech giants start paying for news content, the journalism industry in Canada would find a new stream of revenue.
Not the first
Canada is not the first country to do this as Australia actually proposed a similar law in 2021. CBC explains that in protest, Facebook blocked news on its platforms, however the matter was resolved a week later when Facebook and Google struck a deal with the Australian government.
But no deal has been struck in Canada despite the Online News Act being passed back in June.
Where the two situations differ is that in protest, Facebook banned news prior to the Australian law being passed. This gave the government time to negotiate the law and come to an agreement with Meta and Google.
Canada’s law does not have that flexibility. The government did not give themselves the wiggle room the Australian government did and so the law is not having the same effect.
CBC reports that for “Meta and Google, it’s not about the money but the principle of being regulated and the precedent it might set in other jurisdictions.”
In Australia, Meta and Google struck separate deals with a series of media companies. This allowed them to appease the government as well as stay undesignated.
Concern surrounding the law
While both Meta and Google continue to block news, Canadians wonder if it is still a bluff or if this change will be permanent.
“Critics have noted for a long time that the bill that was signed into law was largely the product of lobbying by a group of what we call “legacy media,” such as The Globe and Mail, Postmedia, Torstar, and others,” Perdomo says.
“Several small news organizations, especially independent and digital-first publications, have been wary of the bill all along in part because they think, and rightly so, it will disproportionately help the more established and vbigger players.”
While media outlets question the law, so are Canadians as they adjust their practice of media intake. However, Perdomo notes that this could be a wake up call for citizens to take a look at the news they consume, and the way tech giants may have been dictating it.
“This is a good time to seek out other ways to connect with news producers: subscribe to newsletters, download more podcasts, attend events organized by community news organizations and other local groups,” she says.
“Those who can may even consider supporting good quality news operations by becoming paid subscribers or offering a donation.”
Now we wait
At present time, news is still being blocked on Meta and Google in Canada. The hope is that they will eventually cave and pay media outlets for the content.
“We don’t know if the Act will be effective or not in accomplishing what the government set out to do, simply because we don’t have the details of how it will be implemented. That will become more apparent in the next few months,” Perdomo says.
Regardless, she says everyone across Canada will be affected by the restrictions whether we notice it or not. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram have become intertwined in the way we consume news.
“Many Canadians will likely get used to simply not seeing relevant news on their social media feeds, and that is a major problem for us as a society,” she says.