When will Canadian news disappear from Google, Facebook? What the Bill C-18 rift means for you
Government says law will apply to companies with 'significant bargaining power imbalance'
How will you get the news now?
That's a question many Canadians may be asking after tech companies Google and Meta, which owns the social media giants Facebook and Instagram, vowed to remove links to Canadian journalism.
It's in retaliation for the Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, that will make them strike agreements with media outlets for "fair compensation" when their news content is shared on the tech companies' platforms.
Not everyone agrees this is the best way to help an industry that has seen its advertising revenue decline. But at the centre of the battle over Bill C-18 is the average news consumer, who, like many Canadians, relies on Google and Facebook to find journalism that matters to them.
Here's what you need to know about the Online News Act and if — and when — you may have to change your news consumption habits.
What's the big deal about Bill C-18?
Google, in a statement Thursday, said it amounts to a "link tax," while Meta insisted Canadian news organizations are already benefiting from "free marketing" worth more than $230 million in the form of clicks from links visible on Facebook feeds.
Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, an advocacy association representing news outlets, acknowledges Google and Facebook "have been good partners" and their platforms drive traffic to news websites.
"We just want to be able to negotiate fairly, on a commercial basis, for the value of our content," Deegan said in an interview with CBC News Network.
But Alfred Hermida, a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia, believes C-18 is a "flawed piece of legislation" that doesn't address greater issues in the news industry, such as the concentration of private media ownership.
"It doesn't take into account the record profits of media conglomerates like Bell and Rogers," he said in a phone interview. "And it doesn't really do anything to support for more than 140 journalism startups that have been created in Canada since the year 2000."
Are the two sides still talking?
Reacting to Google's announcement Thursday, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told CBC News conversations with the company are ongoing and the "clarity" it wants about the Online News Act will come as the government hammers out regulations.
Google, in its statement Thursday, said it's not convinced. Meta isn't optimistic either.
Rachel Curran, Meta Canada's head of public policy, told CBC's Power and Politics on Tuesday there were "no negotiations currently" between the company and the federal government.
When could Canadian news links be blocked?
The law will come into effect at the end of this year, and that's when Google said it will start blocking Canadian news links on its search, news and discover products.
Meta is also planning to prevent Canadian news links from appearing on Facebook and Instagram at the same time. The company also said in early June it would soon begin experimenting with blocking Canadian news content for one to five per cent of the 24 million Facebook users in Canada.
How will I find Canadian news?
News companies rely on an array of tools to reach their audiences, including their own websites and mobile device applications, along with other social media platforms.
Many outlets, including CBC News, use mobile device push alert notifications and email newsletters, though individuals must opt into those.
Private messaging and chat groups may also be alternatives. Meta's Facebook Messenger does not appear to be affected by the company's plans to block news links.
According to the latest Reuters Institute Digital News Report, 11 per cent of Canadians who find and share news on social media do so on Messenger, though more than double that number — 29 per cent — get their news on the actual Facebook platform.
Google's parent company Alphabet also owns YouTube, which is the second-most popular social media platform for news consumption in Canada after Facebook, per the Reuters Institute study. YouTube already allows users, including media outlets, to monetize their content. It's also possible to embed a link back to a news article in the video itself and in the video description.
But Hermida is skeptical about whether Canadians who rely on Google or Facebook for news will go directly to a website, app or use any other platform to find news.
"Once people have habits, they don't change them," he said, explaining many people don't actively seek out news rather they "stumble across" while doing something else.
Could the situation change?
A similar situation played out in Australia, when the country enacted a law in 2021 to make Google and Facebook bargain with news companies.
Though Facebook briefly blocked news from Australian feeds, the government was able to reach an agreement with the two companies and has since hailed its News Media Bargaining Code as a success that led to compensation deals with multiple organizations worth $200 million AUS.
But Hermida said the situation in Australia is different than Canada's.
"It exists on the books, but it hasn't been applied [to Meta and Google]," Hermida said. "So [it's] under that threat that Google and Facebook have been able to make their own deals."
Jordan Leichnitz, the Canada program manager at the Fredrich Ebert Foundation, a German social democracy think-tank, told CBC's Power and Politics this week the companies may be trying to "send a message" by making an example out of Canada,
"The legislation that they're facing here is being replicated in other countries around the world, so there's a pretty close watch on what's happening here," Leichnitz said.