Facebook is a hard company to support. Earlier this week, I attended an excellent talk with Frances Haugen, the well-known Facebook whistleblower, who delivered a compelling case that the social media giant, driven by profit maximization, consistently errs on the side of technical choices that keeps users engaged, angry, and on the platform, often at an enormous societal cost. Haugen identified numerous harms associated with the company’s practices – privacy, the impact on children, misinformation, and algorithmic settings that often inflame rather than educate – and emphasized that there was a need to address these concerns through better regulation (notably transparency and privacy rules).
Haugen’s talk came to mind yesterday as Facebook released a blog post confirming that it had not been invited to appear before the Canadian Heritage committee studying Bill C-18, outlining its concerns, and making it clear that it was starting to think about the prospect of blocking news sharing in Canada:
faced with adverse legislation that is based on false assumptions that defy the logic of how Facebook works, we feel it is important to be transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content in Canada.
There will be much effort by the government and media lobby groups to paint Facebook as engaging in threatening tactics. These should be rejected because while there is a desperate need for legislative reforms to address some of Facebook’s harms, the harms from Bill C-18 also deserve attention. In the context of the bill, the real threat is not Facebook but a legislative process that has undermined democratic norms by blocking dozens of witnesses, threatening the free flow of information by payment for links, and rewarding some of Canada’s wealthiest companies such as Bell and leaving small media companies ineligible.