Google has been in the spotlight for the past few weeks with reports that it has been testing removal news links from search results. The move sparked outrage from MPs, who grilled executives earlier today at Canadian Heritage committee. But now it appears Google has company: the Globe and Mail reports that Facebook has confirmed that it will remove news sharing from its platforms if Bill C-18 passes in its current form. The decision, which would affect Meta platforms Facebook and Instagram, should not come as a surprise since it warned that it was considering the possibility last fall. In fact, the case for Facebook blocking news sharing is even stronger than Google given that news constitutes only three percent of news feeds on the platform and the experience in Australia was that its removal had little impact on user engagement.
The concern facing both Google and Facebook is very clear. Bill C-18 establishes a system of mandated payments for links. While the government often characterizes its approach as requiring compensation for using news, the reality of the bill is that it requires payment for linking, indexing or any other activity that is seen as “facilitating access to news.” Further, with the government indicating that it anticipates payments that could be as high as 35% of news expenditures for every news outlet in the country, the uncapped liability for these company for simply linking to news would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
In fact, the question of links on Facebook was raised directly during the clause-by-clause review of Bill C-18:
Mrs. Rachel Thomas: I’m going to try my hand at a tangible example here. As Canadians right now we have the incredible ability to exchange ideas within public platforms or online platforms such as Facebook. It’s this new form of a public square where ideas are exchanged and sometimes quotes are taken and expressed and entire news articles are sometimes posted. I recognize that if Facebook continues to allow articles to be posted, they will be declared a DNI and they will need to enter into negotiations. Facebook has said that they may consider removing the ability of news to be shared on their platform so that they cannot be scoped into this legislation. If they were to make that decision and Canadians wanted to take a quote from a newspaper article and post that quote on their Facebook page as a small snippet, would Facebook be allowed to permit that without being captured by this legislation?
Mr. Thomas Owen Ripley: Thank you for the question, MP Thomas. The concepts of “making available” or ”facilitating access to” are really intended, again, to…. The primary driver behind this bill, if we could go back to first principles, is recognizing that Canadians use these services in order to access news content. Primarily, it’s that idea of facilitating access to it. We’ve heard the debate around whether linking should be included or not, but the government’s position is that you need to include it because, at its core, that is what it means to facilitate access to news content in the modern digital environment. Regarding the example you give, in a context where Facebook has made the business decision to essentially prevent the ability of users to link to news articles but an individual is quoting from a particular news article without a link, no, I do not believe that would engage or trigger the application of the act.
Mrs. Rachel Thomas: But as soon as a link is included, then they would be scoped into this legislation.
Mr. Thomas Owen Ripley: From my perspective, the act of linking is a critical one. It boils down to the facilitation of access. Again, at the crux of this bill is a recognition that the ways that a significant number of Canadians navigate to news content is via social media services or via a search service, which involves clicking on the link. Yes.
This where the government is at with Bill C-18. A Canadian can post a quote from a news article on their Facebook page, but if they include a link to the source article, there would be a requirement for the platform to negotiate mandatory payment for linking. pic.twitter.com/8dt618rHaQ
— Michael Geist (@mgeist) November 29, 2022
The exchange removes any doubt that the bill would implicate Facebook posts merely for including a link that sends users to the original source. To paraphrase Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, “links in, liability in.” Given the inclusion of hundreds of broadcasters that are not even required to produce news, it should not come as a surprise that the two companies around which the entire legislation is framed would consider stopping news linking or sharing. Indeed, the government has acknowledged that there are two ways to comply with Bill C-18: either pay for links or stop linking. Given that choice, both companies appear to be moving toward exiting news in Canada.
Rodriguez tried to downplay that possibility when he appeared before committee describing it as a business choice, but the reality is he chose the riskiest possible legislative approach. There were many alternatives, including an independent fund or legislation based on reproduction of news articles. Instead, Rodriguez and the government practically dared the companies to do anything other than pay up for linking, while taking aim that the foundation of the free flow of information online. It is that choice – the government’s policy choice in Bill C-18 – that may ultimately lead to a digital news desert of Canadian sources on two of the most important Internet platforms.
Bill C-18 is a really bad idea. The internet was not made to be capitalize on to begin with, it was literally made for the sharing of information to all for all. Bill C-11 is also a disaster because of how vague it is and how easy it would be for any government to manipulate in such a way once again the founders of internet never intended. All under the guise of protecting Canadian Heritage they are going to find this will do the exact opposite of that – Canadians getting less sources to review Canadian content and history. Gee, that won’t impact our students negatively in anyways *rolls eyes.
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Isn’t the real disaster the way FB/Meta sought to monetize access to news sites, costing news outlets millions in infrastructure to meet FB’s requirements? Isn’t FB’s inability to program a decent system to prevent fake news and misinformation (something reputable news organizations and practices do) the real disaster?.
A) Canada has fair dealing built into it’s copyright system.
B) Facebook provided considerable financial benefits by permitting links on their platform to media companies. It didn’t cost outlets a darn thing.
C) Outlets themselves were posting their links to those platforms willingly, even paying platforms to promote their posts at times.
D) The big media companies are about to shoot themselves in the face because of their suicidal push for this link tax. They will bear 100% of the blame when it all hits the fan.
Its going to be very ugly for the media when this hits the fan.
Let’s not forget that a few years ago at least one newspaper (Ottawa Citizen) implemented its comments section on Facebook (if I recall properly). I wonder if FB charged them for that privilege?
Many of there reporters would post right on Facebook and complain the big tech is hurting them.
I have to wonder what they expected. This whole thing feels like the government losing the world’s dumbest game of chicken
I think the media thought a deal would have been reached by now.
Consider whether it’s a good idea to get “news” from a “social media” feed with all the manipulation and filtering performed by the “social media” company.
Possibly if the “social media” companies take their ball and go home, the “real” news sites (1) get more direct traffic and (2) actually have to work for it instead of relying on government-mandated handouts and (3) The “real” news sites are less beholden to the current government so they may be less inclined to kowtow to them.
Isn’t that win-win-win?
If the media takes the ball and goes home i think you will sea a massive battle between the media and Feds.
If that happens I will make popcorn and watch the mayhem with great interest!
I would also ask, conversely, if it is a good idea to get news on this topic from a source (the media) which has a vested interest in a specific outcome.
No-one’s hands are clean in this abattoir of truth. All we have left is the theater of absurdity, greed, and chaos.
Better to sit back and enjoy the show than to wring our hands in worry.
Facebook has a lot of new campaign changes
It’s very easy. Let them pass their law.
Google, every search engine, every social media website, everywhere NO links to and FROM the Canadian press must be allowed. Any press website linking to any website : blocked. Any link to a Canadian information website : not allowed.
Let’s make 100 % of the canadian press diseappear from Internet.
And let’s block 100 % of the canadian press to be allowed to link ANYWHERE outside of the Canadian press.
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Facebook makes over $100BN annual revenue and Google +$200B. That revenue is earned largely on the backs of other people’s content. I am not sure why making intermediaries pay creators is such a controversy? From an administrative and technical point of view, it is relatively simple to do.
Don’t confuse posting on social media with what the read-write Web2 era of sharing content was supposed to be. Because regulators were too shy in the past two decades, we ended up with economic control in the hands of 5-10 centralized companies. Web3 promises a truly decentralized, user-owned internet, which is where regulators should be looking when they craft regulation.
This isn’t just a Canadian issue. Talk to anyone in California at the moment about Bard or ChatGPT and you will here the same complaints about sharing revenue.
Here’s a thought. Buy a newspaper if you are in the news! Stop cutting and pasting into your digital existence someone else’s ideas you read online. Write your own copy if you have an original thought.
“Interested in the news”