Facebook Canada head rejects idea of Australia-style news payment rules

The head of Facebook Canada told legislators on a Commons committee today that the company doesn't want to pay publishers to use their content on the social media site.

Kevin Chan said the regulations would hinder a free and open internet

Facebook Canada's global director and head of public policy Kevin Chan speaks to journalists before testifying at the international grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Chan told a Parliamentary committee Monday that Facebook is opposed to paying publishers for permission to have their content on the site. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

The head of Facebook Canada says rules requiring it to pay publishers for news content linked on its site would be a worst-case scenario for the social media behemoth.

At a parliamentary committee hearing today, Kevin Chan said such regulation would hinder a free and open internet. He said Facebook already props up struggling legacy media outlets by directing traffic to their sites.

Last month, Facebook blacked out all news on its platform in Australia in response to looming legislation that would require digital giants to pay traditional news companies for their journalism.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Australian counterpart agreed to continue "co-ordinating efforts" to ensure web giants' revenues are shared more fairly with creators and media after Facebook struck a deal with the Australian government on a revised bill — which still demands that tech titans fork over cash for content.

New Democrat MP Heather McPherson is accusing web giants and the Liberal government of fostering a "cozy relationship" with Big Tech that protects platforms' profits at the expense of local media and Canadian taxpayers.

Chan notes that Facebook Canada has announced investments of $18 million in sustainable business models over six years.

However, legislation akin to Australia's "is never something we would ever want to do unless we really have no choice," Chan told MPs on Monday.

Lawmakers also raised concerns about online hate speech and disinformation regarding COVID-19 vaccines — two problems Chan said the company is trying to address while respecting freedom of expression.

The government is working on a three-pronged response to the challenges that social media platforms and other major internet-based content providers pose to media regulation in Canada, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has said.

One part of the response is a bill currently before the House of Commons to modernize the broadcasting regime, while a second is work underway now to address how major internet companies are taxed, and in turn how traditional media companies are financially supported.

Online hate makes up the third prong; global observers continue to question Facebook's role in tragedies ranging from the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand to deadly military violence directed at Myanmar's Rohingya minority, as well as racist posts in Canada.

Facebook funds a fellowship that supports journalism positions at The Canadian Press.

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