Meta is in the midst of a moral standoff over its decision to ban news content for Canadian users, with the Canadian Government now looking to put pressure back on the company for, as it claims, failing its users during the current wildfires in the region.
To recap, earlier this month, after repeated warnings about the impact of the Canadian Government’s proposed Online News Act, Meta blocked news sites for Canadian users, in order to comply with the new law, which is designed to force revenue share agreements between publishers and large online platforms.
The Online News Act essentially seeks to establish a revenue share model between Meta and local publishers, with Meta paying for the right to host news content on Facebook and Instagram. Meta has rightly argued this is a misinterpretation of the modern news cycle, and that publishers actually glean more from its platforms than the benefit flowing the other way, but the Canadian Government, following the lead of Australia, has opted to push ahead with the plan, in the hopes of securing more funding for local journalists.
Which the Australian Government has reported as having some benefit, but over the last few years, Meta has increasingly sought to shift away from news content entirely. So when push comes to shove, as it has in this case, and Meta is forced to actually pay for news content, or abandon it, it’s opted, instead, for the latter, arguing that it won’t have a significant impact to its business.
Which Meta is within its rights to do, while the Canadian Government’s latest criticisms of the company also somewhat justify Meta’s stance that local publishers actually benefit more from it than it does from them, hence why it should be forced to pay.
As reported by Bloomberg, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized Meta for blocking news content during the current crisis, noting that it’s impeding information sharing during a national emergency.
Thousands of Canadians have been forced to flee their homes amid the fire threat, and Trudeau says that Meta has a responsibility to serve its users in this situation.
As per Trudeau:
“It is so inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits ahead of ensuring that local news organizations can get up-to-date information to Canadians and reach them.”
Trudeau’s point makes sense, but again, this is essentially an acknowledgment that news publishers and the public benefit far more from Facebook amplification, yet it’s Meta, under the proposed Online News Act, that would be paying for this privilege.
And while now isn’t the time to be playing politics, in the midst of a major disaster, the case does highlight that there needs to be more discussion about the Act, that that enforcement, based on its current parameters, is not the best solution moving forward.
In response, Meta has said that it is still providing assistance, via support groups and other tools, despite the news ban.
“We have been clear since February that the broad scope of the Online News Act would impact the sharing of news content on our platforms, We remain focused on ensuring people in Canada can use our technologies to connect with loved ones and access information, which is how more than 45,000 people have marked themselves safe and around 300,000 people have visited the Yellowknife and Kelowna Crisis Response pages on Facebook.”
At this stage, Meta seems unwilling to change it stance, though as the crisis worsens, it may be time for the company to put its arguments on pause for the time being, then make its case at a later date.
British Columbia’s Premier David Eby has pleaded with Meta to open up access to Canadian media, so that British Columbians can share critical local information and stay safe.
Again, it does seem like a clear example of Meta’s stance, that the reach and amplification it provides is of more value to news organizations than it is to it.
Ideally, Meta can now press this case after the current crisis.