Facebook app by Eduardo Woo https://flic.kr/p/pfd7yn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Facebook app by Eduardo Woo https://flic.kr/p/pfd7yn (CC BY-SA 2.0)


Media Publishers File Flawed Competition Act Application Over Meta Blocking News Links Due to Bill C-18

As the fallout from Bill C-18 continues, a coalition of Canadian media outlets – News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, and the CBC – have filed an application with the Competition Bureau seeking an inquiry into Meta’s decision to block news links in response to the bill’s mandated payments for links approach. There is unquestionably a need for greater competition work with respect to Internet platforms, but a case grounded in refusal to link is not the place to start. Indeed, this complaint is exceptionally weak as it misstates Bill C-18, implausibly claims that Meta has substantial control over the news industry in Canada, contradicts the government on the choices presented by its legislation, and risks creating a mandated requirement to link that could result in other sectors forcing platforms to display more contentious content.

Start with the description of Bill C-18 in the application. The media outlets state the bill “requires Meta and other web giants (defined by Bill C-18 as “operators”) to negotiate compensation agreements with Canadian news organizations for the reproduction of news content on the operators’ digital platforms (defined in Bill C-18 as “digital news intermediaries”).” If the bill was solely about “reproduction” of news content, we would not be here since neither Facebook nor Instagram reproduce the news in any meaningful sense. Both merely link to the reproductions, which are found on the publishers’ own sites. The concerns with the legislation lies in its mandated payments for links approach, not on the notion of negotiating payment for reproduction which is not an issue in dispute.

More notably, the media outlets argument for Meta’s “substantial control” of the market simply doesn’t make any sense. They argue that because it is the largest social media company, “Meta effectively has substantial control over access to Canadian news and also, more generally, on the news industry in Canada.” It should not require stating, but a link is not the same as controlling content. In fact, this absurd claim neglects to mention that social media is not even the most important referral source for the news industry. The Senate heard testimony that social media constituted between 17-30% of referral traffic for news sites. That is valuable and its loss will have an impact, but it in no way can be credibly described as substantial control over access to news, much less the news industry.

The claim continues by stating that “Meta cannot claim any legitimate business justification for blocking news content from its digital platforms.” Yet then-Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez repeatedly said the opposite when asked about the potential for blocking news links at committee. Rodriguez noted that it was a business choice for the platforms in determining how to comply with Bill C-18. The failure to take that business choice seriously is a key reason why the government now finds itself in a legislative mess. 

The media outlets also argue that “by refusing to negotiate with Canadian news organizations in good faith for the access of Canadian news content on Meta’s platforms, and by blocking the news content on the platforms, Meta is denying Canadian news organizations fair compensation for their content, leaving them with limited resources to compete effectively in the news publishing market.” If anything, the media outlets make a persuasive case in their application that they should be paying Meta for the free links. The removal of those links are described as threatening the “viability and sustainability of the industry in Canada” and representing a “critical distribution channel.” That distribution channel has been free to the publishers for years. Given its importance, Bill C-18 flips the value proposition by somehow mandating that Internet companies pay for the privilege of providing a critical distribution channel for the media outlets.

Ultimately, the claim is filled with contradictions as the blocking news links is alternately described in one paragraph as degrading the social media platform and in the next as entrenching its dominant market power. There are lots of concerns with Meta, but its decision to comply with the deeply flawed Bill C-18 by removing news links isn’t one of them. This outcome was entirely foreseeable, yet the media sector made the bet that the platforms could not live without its content and would ultimately pay for it despite the absence of an economic rationale for doing so. The solution does not lie in a Competition Act action that could ultimately lead to adult, gambling or even misinformation sites seeking similar remedies to prohibit blocking their links. It lies in fixing the flawed legislation by addressing the foundational problem of mandating payments for links.



  1. Gorgonzola says:

    “Meta cannot claim any legitimate business justification for blocking news content from its digital platforms.”

    Imagine writing this. Just imagine it. If they don’t block news links, they face uncapped liability because of C-18!!!

    It would have been a nonsensical argument even before C-18 (why should a website be required to carry news links?), but ***C-18 is the exact reason that they have a “legitimate business justification” not to carry news***!!! And they begged for C-18!!!

    The chutzpah is unbelievable. It’s like the old joke about the child who kills his parents and then begs the judge for mercy because he’s an orphan.

    • Agreed. And the news media wonders why people don’t trust them these days. They are a primary source of the information that people need to make informed decisions. But looking at a lot of the published opinion pieces, and their tendency to try to shut down other sources of information, they don’t seem to give a big rats “behind” about having an informed public, which they themselves claim is the key to functioning democracy.

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  2. Jim McClean says:

    The implications of this go well beyond just the tech sector. What is to stop the Government from implementing other arbitrary, discriminatory and irrational policies?

    Investors take uncertainty very seriously. Investment in China, and Chinese exports, are currently in significant decline for such reasons.

  3. The root of the problem is that the traditional media view advertising revenue as their birthright. When the internet came along and squished newsprint, radio, and tv as mediums, and social media and search proved more compelling content than news, they were unable to support their businesses.

    They’re now stuck mindlessly pursuing their old revenue stream even though the best minds in Canadian media (ha!) haven’t been able to shoehorn a viable compensation process onto someone else’s ad profits.

    • The Gov’t is trying to “force Ford to subsidize the horse and buggy” here.
      Wouldn’t work then, won’t work now.

  4. Mister Geist sees this issue, clearly. The Canadian news media apparently do not. Or perhaps they just smell a potential revenue stream. Any fool can see they are receiving literally free advertising & promotion by having such listings, yet they want us to pretend it’s Meta, Google, etc. who are receiving the end-benefit. How stupid do they think we are?

    • I suspect that the new media sees the issue, but are banking on a few things:

      1) In general the population of Canada has issues with the profits being made by the tech giants, in particular since what they hear on the news media is the profits for the company globally, not nationally. They’ve been using the assumption that companies who are making large profits are gouging;

      2) If you repeat a lie often enough people come to believe it is truth. In this sense they are using Google, etc, against itself, since the number of repeats means that result is what most people are likely to read in a general search (people often don’t look at the by-line and realize that the story is a reprint from other outlets); and

      3) People are not being taught to think critically, to question what they read and look for multiple independent sources of the information nor to determine if the source has a vested interest in a particular outcome. The claim of being an “expert” in a field is providing uncalled-for deference, whereas. The problem I’ve seen is that for every expert that is spoken to in the news media others with differing conclusions (sometimes completely contrary, some just a difference in degree) are not presented.

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  6. Paying for links is wrong.

    Paying for content is right.

    ChatGPT loves to alot of data and these media have history in their vaults and SSD’s… seeing things from the old school. is not the answer

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