A Canadian law that will require tech companies to compensate domestic publishers has led Meta to start blocking news articles on its social networks.
Meta has followed through with a threat to restrict access to news content in protest of a new Canadian law. © Jim Wilson/The New York Times
By Vjosa Isai
It could be months before an escalating fight between Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, and the Canadian government gets resolved, but Matthew DiMera, publisher of a Canadian news organization, is already feeling the pain.
Mr. DiMera tried to create an Instagram post featuring a news article by his outlet, The Resolve — something news organizations do routinely to promote their work. Instead, he said, he was greeted by the message: “People in Canada can’t see your content.”
Meta this week began blocking news from appearing on its platforms in Canada, the latest twist in its standoff with the government over a new law that will require technology companies to compensate domestic publishers for using their content. The law comes at a time when the news industry in Canada, as in much of the world, is shrinking under the pressure of lower advertising revenues, and depends on social networks for much of its readership.
“Instagram has been a really great platform for us to connect with people, so losing that is really a huge concern for us,” said Mr. DiMera, who started The Resolve in 2021 to report stories on Black, Indigenous and racially diverse communities.
The new law will not go into effect until December, but Meta has launched something of a pre-emptive strike with a news blockade that it said will roll out over a few weeks. Facebook and Instagram users in Canada will be unable to share links to news articles from local or international outlets anywhere on their accounts, including in short video posts called “reels” or in the comment sections of other posts.
The law, called the Online News Act, was passed in June and will require technology companies to license news content through agreements with individual publishers, or groups of publishers, and then pay news outlets for linking to their articles.
Canadian news outlets and publishers reacted angrily to Meta’s decision to block news access.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s public broadcaster, accused Meta of “an abuse of their market power” that would especially affect communities that rely on Facebook to access news articles, including those in northern Canada, rural areas and users from Francophone or multilingual backgrounds. Some of those communities have limited access to print publications.
“It’s another blow to democracy and to the opportunity for us to access fair and balanced, well-sourced journalism,” said Megan Boler, a professor of media and communication studies at the University of Toronto.
Meta defended its actions in a blog post this week, rejecting the notion that it unfairly benefits from news content on its platforms and arguing that it has generated significant revenue for publishers.
The implementation of the online law is still being negotiated between the government and tech platforms. Details to be worked out include establishing thresholds on payments to news organizations based on a platform’s revenues and what kind of alternative compensation or in-kind services, such as training, a tech company could provide as part of the agreements with news outlets.
Google has threatened to block news access, but for now it is participating in discussions with the government over the law’s regulations. Meta, however, is not taking part, said Pascale St-Onge, Canada’s heritage minister, whose agency helps oversee tech regulation.
“Facebook knows they have no obligations under the Act right now,” because it is not yet in effect, Ms. St-Onge said in a statement on Twitter. She added, “They would rather block their users from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations.”
The standoff in Canada is a near-repeat of the approach Meta, then called Facebook, took two years ago in Australia, when its government also adopted a law seeking to force tech platforms to compensate publishers. The Canadian law is modeled after Australia’s.
The company blocked users in Australia from viewing news articles across its platforms for one week, before negotiating a deal that gave it more time to create agreements with news organizations.
Australia’s former competition chief, Rod Sims, has said that agreements through the deal have led to more than 200 million Australian dollars, or $130 million, in annual payments to publishers since that country’s law took effect.
At the time, Canadian officials, then in the early days of crafting their own legislation, condemned Facebook’s hard-line stance in Australia. Since then, the government, Canadian news organizations and Meta have been exchanging angry volleys.
In June, the federal government, which spends about 10 million Canadian dollars per year, about $7.5 million, to advertise on Meta platforms, pulled its ads. The province of Quebec did the same, as have the province of British Columbia, a handful of municipalities, and other organizations and media companies, including the owner of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper.
Meta’s revenue from Canadian advertising, so far this year, is about 1.9 billion Canadian dollars, according to Jean-Hugues Roy, a journalism professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
Canada’s news outlets have imposed mass layoffs in recent years in the face of cratering advertising revenue, much of which has flowed toward tech platforms like Meta. Most recently, Bell Media, the news subsidiary of a Canadian telecommunications company, slashed its work force by 1,300 people and shut down six of its radio stations in June.
Some larger Canadian news outlets have criticized the new law, arguing that it interferes with free market forces that will largely determine what news business models are able to survive.
“Among our own ranks, there is a range of views” over the online law, said Paul Deegan, president and chief executive officer of News Media Canada, an industry lobbying group. “But the consensus is that this is a good path.”
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