Some Instagram users in Canada find their access to news accounts restricted as Meta and other social media companies prepare for the country’s Online News Act to take effect.
Meta, the company that owns Instagram and Facebook, says it underwent tests in June to limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing news content in Canada. It says the tests affect up to five percent of Canadian users.
Many have questions about the federal government’s Online News Act, why social media companies oppose it, and how friction between the two will affect Canadian users.
Here are some of your questions, answered.
What is the Online News Law?
The Online News Act, or Bill C-18, is a Canadian law that requires technology companies like Google and Meta to compensate news outlets for sharing links to their pages. The law received royal assent on June 22 and is scheduled to come into force. “no later than 180 days” after that date.
What are the concerns of social media companies?
Critics, including Meta and Google, say Bill C-18 is unfair, unfeasible and amounts to a tax on links, without acknowledging the traffic or “free marketing” that technology companies provide to news publishers.
In addition to blocking access to some users, Meta launched an advertising campaign on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, criticizing the law and explaining its decision to remove news links.
“The Online News Act is based on the incorrect premise that social media companies profit unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, but the opposite is true,” Lisa Laventure, a spokeswoman for Meta, said in a statement Monday.
“News outlets voluntarily share content on social media to expand their audience and help their bottom line. Unfortunately, the only way we can reasonably comply with this legislation is to end the availability of news to people in Canada in the coming weeks.”
Is this what the proponents of the bill wanted?
No. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodríguez called Meta’s move “disappointing” and said Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.
Meanwhile, Paul Deegan, head of News Media Canada, called Meta’s move a “kick in the shin” for Canadians at a time when the value and need for credible information has never been greater.
“Meta’s decision to ‘unfriend’ Canada by denying access to reliable news sources to some of its users, while the wildfires rage and when public safety is at stake, is irresponsible and deaf,” Deegan told Breaking: in an email.
“This hard lobbying tactic is further evidence of the power imbalance that exists between the dominant platforms and publishers.”
Will this happen to all of us soon?
To comply with the law, both Google and Meta have stated that they will remove news links in Canada before the law takes effect at the end of the year.
Rodríguez has said that Google and Meta have no obligations under the law because the regulatory process is just beginning.
“We are deeply convinced that Google’s and Facebook’s concerns can be resolved through the regulatory process. If Facebook truly believes the news is worthless, they can say so at the negotiating table,” Rodriguez said in a statement Monday.
“Threats to take down news instead of complying with the laws in our country only highlight the power platforms have over news organizations, both large and small.”
Google has said it will work with the government throughout the regulatory process, while Meta believes the process is not equipped to make changes to parts of the law with which it disagrees.
What is CBC doing about it?
Legacy outlets and broadcasters have praised the bill, which promises to “improve fairness” in the digital news market and help generate more money for shrinking newsrooms. Tech giants including Meta and Google have been blamed in the past for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, dwarfing smaller traditional players.
CBC/Radio-Canada’s corporate position is that the Online News Act will help level the playing field and contribute to a healthy news ecosystem in Canada “at a time when 80 percent of digital advertising revenue goes to Facebook and Google,” spokesman Leon Mar said.
In an editor’s blog, Breaking: editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon suggested that audiences follow the broadcaster on TikTok and other apps, including Gem and CBC Listen.
Has there been a setback?
Menlo Park, California-based Meta has taken similar steps in the past. In 2021, it briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed a law that would force tech companies to pay publishers for using its news. He later struck deals with Australian publishers.
Gregory Taylor, a professor of communications, media and film at the University of Calgary, pointed to Australia as an example of why Canadian news publishers should stand their ground.
“Facebook is really trying to assert itself, but in the end they can’t afford to lose a lot of these markets,” Taylor previously told CBC North. “I think we are at the forefront of getting these companies to contribute to our democracy by introducing this type of financing model.”
What is the response to combat this?
Alfred Hermida, a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia, believes C-18 is “flawed legislation” that fails to address larger issues in the news industry, such as the concentration of private media ownership.
“It doesn’t take into account the record profits of media conglomerates like Bell and Rogers,” he previously told Breaking:.
“And it really does nothing to support the more than 140 new journalism companies that have been created in Canada since the year 2000.”
In the short term, private messaging and group chats may also be alternatives, as Meta’s Facebook Messenger doesn’t appear to be affected by the company’s plans to block news links.