Facebook to Cut News Access Over “Online News Act”

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Meta, the company that owns social media giant Facebook is following through with its threat – first made last year, to block news content for people in Canada over the controversial “Online News Act” – if passed into law in its current form.

In a move that highlights the ever-increasing despair of governments to clip the wings of high flying big tech media companies and of mainstream media to stay afloat as their advertising revenues continue to plummet, the Canadian Government is mulling the Online News Act; a law that would force big tech companies such as Facebook and Google to pay Canadian news publishers apparently for using their content.

The law which has already been endorsed by the Canadian Heritage Committee and is now under consideration by the Canadian Parliament has elicited expected strong opposition from Facebook and Google – which has already embarked on testing news blocking in the country which has seen 64 of its news publishers shut down in the last two years, according to Reuters.

“ Digital platforms have come to play an integral role in Canada’s news ecosystem, shifting the way Canadians access news content that is vital to democracy. They can play an important role in supporting the production of trusted news and information.”

The Canadian Government has said

In a statement made to Reuters, an unnamed Meta spokesperson said on Saturday:

“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.”

Globally, publishers including The Legal Reports use social media platforms to reach their audiences and the passing of Canada’s Online News Act could set a precedent for the rest of the world’s governments in trying to innovate ways of cushioning the struggling traditional media industry by billing tech companies – not just Google and Facebook but also Twitter and even news aggregators.

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Legislators and news media in Canada argue social media platforms “steal” their content to ensure user engagement on their platforms – an allegation Facebook and Google have vehemently denied.

 “The framework of the current legislation presumes that Meta unfairly benefits from its relationship with publishers, when in fact the reverse is true. Meta does not scrape content or links to news content. Posts with links to news articles make up less than 3% of what people see in their Facebook Feed, and Canadians tell us they want to see less news and political content. 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.”

Facebook said while appearing before the Canadian Heritage Committee last year

“ In Canada, we estimate that Facebook Feed sent registered publishers more than 1.9 billion clicks in a single year — free marketing for their content in the form of link posts that has an estimated value of more than CDN $230 million. Simply put, this is what it would have cost news publishers to achieve the same outcome on Facebook if that space wasn’t provided to them for free.”

It added

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    On its part, Google has made similar arguments against Canada’s Online News Act but added a different dimension to the debate – one that would see low-quality news sites monetized, increased risk of misinformation, influence peddling from politicians, and potential copyright concerns.

    “ The internet is built on the principle of freely linking between websites. We all find information, products and services by clicking through links. Businesses, including news businesses, want to be found by Canadians via Search.

    Google sends billions of visits to Canadian news publishers a year — at no cost to them — helping them grow their readership, subscriber base, build trust with readers, and make money.

    Including payment for links repeats the mistakes other jurisdictions have backed away from, it violates global copyright norms and local legal precedent including by the Supreme Court in Crookes.

    Payment for links also incentivizes cheap, low quality, clickbait content over public interest journalism. And clearly favours large publishers over small, as they simply have more content to link to.”

    Colin McKay, Head of Public Policy and Government Relations, Google Canada said in a blog post.

    Internet experts have also criticized Canada’s move as having the potential of stifling internet growth and others have gone ahead to suggest that Canadian Members of Parliament simply don’t understand how the internet works and therefore don’t know what they are talking about.

    “ The idea that we can or should force two American tech giants to underwrite the independent news upon which Canadians rely is a logical and ethical fallacy ”

    Said Paula Simmons, according to the Canadian Dimension, adding:

    “ Including tiny websites whose work is almost never shared or indexed on those social media platforms at all. The whole premise of the bill is ridiculous.

    I have a hard time with the idea that Google and Facebook are stealing the links—links that media is begging them to take. More than that, I’m asking if it’s wise.

    How independent can the Canadian news media be if they are so deeply beholden to the goodwill and future economic success of two foreign corporations?” She wondered.


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