By Laura Keil
Last week the federal government passed Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which would require digital mega companies such as Google and Meta (facebook) to negotiate with Canadian media companies and pay them for republishing news content on their platforms.
For most of the 20th century, newspapers and news broadcasters were the primary public forums, the primary mediums of communication. Because of their dominance, they also attracted lots of advertising dollars, which funded the creation of more content.
Today, that situation has changed dramatically. The new “medium” is the internet, one primarily mediated by just two companies, who have been wildly successful. And despite news companies continuing to have huge audiences for their stories, advertising dollars have been siphoned by the big tech giants, causing many media companies to close their doors. More than 474 news outlets in Canada have shuttered since 2008, including 64 in the last two years.
Now, in response to this government bill, Meta and Google have both said they will block Canadian news outlets and will do so before C-18 comes into effect in six months.
This level of media censorship is unprecedented in the age of the Internet and shows just how powerful these companies are.
“At a time when foreign digital platforms have cornered the markets in search and advertising, Canadian news organizations need the Online News Act to ensure they have a fair opportunity to be compensated for the use of their content,” the Canadian Association of Broadcasters said in a release.
““Meta states that this news blocking is a ‘test,’ but this is not a technical check. It is a test of Canadians’ resolve,” says CAB President Kevin Desjardins. “Blocking Canadians from accessing news through their platforms demonstrates their disdain for democracy and their contempt for Canadian journalists.”
I have to agree. They have six months to reach a deal with media companies, and instead of saying they intend to reach a deal, they are shooting Putin-esque threats at journalists. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. After all, the government is simply saying the companies must negotiate. They are not dictating what they must pay.
How much money can a company like the Goat possibly expect from Facebook or Google? If it’s similar to the couple dollars a month I was making from Google Ads, I’m not holding out hope. Plus, if it means the platforms reduce visibility to news stories because they’re forced to pay a few cents, that is counterproductive to news companies, especially smaller ones that rely more heavily on social media traffic.
I’m not defending the Google and Meta, but I am concerned about the outcome. Some commentators believe they are worried the Canadian deal would set a precedent to a similar law in the U.S., the companies’ biggest markets.
I’m pessimistic about the outcome, but I’m willing to be open-minded. C-18 is modelled on a similar Australian law that took effect in March 2021. Facebook, blocked news on the platform for a short time before the Australian government made concessions. The bill has largely worked, a government report said, with Meta and Google paying some A$200 million annually to Australian news outlets.
In the meantime, if you stop seeing the Goat’s news feeds, this is why.