Meta to start blocking news content for up to 5% of Canadian Facebook, Instagram users
Social media giant steps up opposition to Bill C-18
Meta will soon block some Canadian users of Facebook and Instagram from accessing or posting news content on either platform.
The move, which the social media giant announced in a blog post on Thursday, comes in reaction to the looming passage into law of Bill C-18, the Online News Act.
Facebook has said it will be forced to block news content from its platforms in Canada if the bill becomes law, something that could happen as soon as this month as the bill is currently being considered in the Senate.
Among other stipulations, the bill would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
"As we prepare to comply with the legislation, we are announcing today that we will begin tests on both platforms that will limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada," Meta said.
- Are you a Facebook or Instagram user? Do you use those platforms to share the news? We want to speak to you as part of a story. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between one and five per cent of the 24 million Canadians who use Facebook or Instagram will be included in the test, which is set to start soon.
Different content may be blocked for different users on different platforms, said Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada.
"It won't be a uniform experience, necessarily," she said. "Some news links won't be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram. It will be a different experience on different surfaces."
"Throughout the testing period, which will run for several weeks, a small percentage of people in Canada who are enrolled in testing will be notified if they attempt to share news content."
The test means that a user would not see links to articles or videos from news publishers anywhere in their feed. A user would also be blocked from sharing such content to other people.
News publishers will be able to post news links and content, but some of it will not be viewable in Canada.
Users who will be included in the test will be selected randomly, and will only be made aware that they're included if they attempt to share news, at which point they will see a notification that they are unable to.
The number of news publishers who will have their content included in the test will not be public and is also randomized, but could include international publishers that operate in Canada. The publishers will be notified if they have been included in the test, Meta says.
News industry decries move
Paul Deegan, the head of News Media Canada, called Meta's move a "kick in the shins" to Canadians at a time when the value and need for credible information has never been greater.
"Meta's decision to 'unfriend' Canada by denying access to trusted sources of news for some of their users, as wildfires burn and when public safety is at stake is irresponsible and tone deaf," Deegan told CBC News in an email.
"This hard-nose lobbying tactic is more evidence of the power imbalance that exists between dominant platforms and publishers, which is why parliamentarians need to pass the Online News Act before their summer recess."
Meta's move comes on the heels of a similar move by Google earlier this year, when it blocked news results for more than a million Canadians, also in opposition to the bill.
Meta says Bill C-18 is "fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers."
Curran told senators pondering the bill in a committee last month that the company objects to being asked to compensate news publishers for their content, when by their calculation they have given news publishers more than 1.9 million clicks in Canada in the past year, "and free marketing worth more than $230 million in estimated value."
"We will be forced to compensate news publishers for material that they post to drive traffic and drive clicks back to their page and websites where they can then monetize those views and eyeballs either through a paywall or they can place ads against the views that show up on their web page," she said. "We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that actually benefits them from a monetary perspective."
Government calls move 'disappointing'
Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called Meta's move "disappointing" and said Canadians will not be intimidated by these tactics.
Legacy media and broadcasters have praised the bill, which promises to "enhance fairness" in the digital news marketplace and help bring in more money for shrinking newsrooms. Tech giants including Meta and Google have been blamed in the past for disrupting and dominating the advertising industry, eclipsing smaller, traditional players.
Meta, which is based in Menlo Park, Calif., has taken similar steps in the past. In 2021, it briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed legislation that would compel tech companies to pay publishers for using their news stories. It later struck deals with Australian publishers.
Meta also reached a deal with U.K. publishers that year, after similar discussions.
Accountable Tech, a U.S.-based advocacy group pushing for more regulation of technology companies in that country, says the news blackouts in various countries show the lengths that big tech companies will go to in order to sway governments and maintain their profits.
"What we witnessed unfold in Australia, and now in Canada, is Big Tech's willingness to cripple democracy by withholding news content to a population — chosen at random — as a bargaining chip to stop legislation," the group's executive director Nicole Gill said.
"It's clear that Meta has no interest in acting in good faith or improving the lives of its users and the communities they operate in. There is simply no reason for the U.S. to delay any action on reining them in."
With files from The Associated Press