Canadians now censored on social media – NO MORE SHARING INTEL

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, received royal assent after passing House and Senate

The parent company of Facebook and Instagram says it’s ending access to news content for Canadian users in response to C-18. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

The social media giant Meta has confirmed that it will end access to news on its social media sites for all Canadian users before Bill C-18, the Online News Act, comes into force.

The tech company made the announcement on Thursday, the same day the bill received royal assent. The law will force tech giants like Meta and Google to pay news outlets for posting their journalism on their platforms.

Meta said it will begin to block news for Canadian users over the next few months and that the change will not be immediate.

“We have repeatedly shared that in order to comply with Bill C-18 … content from news outlets, including news publishers and broadcasters, will no longer be available to people accessing our platforms in Canada,” Meta said in a media statement.

Now that the bill has received royal assent, the Department of Canadian Heritage will draft regulations specifying the application of the act and provide guidance on implementing it. It should take six months for Bill C-18 to come into force. 

“A free and independent press is fundamental to our democracy,” Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement. “It levels the playing field by putting the power of big tech in check and ensuring that even our smallest news business can benefit through this regime and receive fair compensation for their work.”

In response to Meta’s announcement that it would be banning news content for Canadian users, Rodriguez said in a different media statement that Meta currently has no obligations under the act and that the federal government will engage in a “regulatory and implementation process” following royal assent of Bill C-18.

“If the government can’t stand up for Canadians against tech giants, who will?” Rodriguez said. 

A spokesperson for the minister said his office had meetings with Facebook and Google this week. 

“We look forward to further discussions with the platforms,” they said.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez rises during question period
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez is shown during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on April 28. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Meta first threatened to end access to news content for Canadian users of Facebook and Instagram earlier this month, in response to the looming passage of Bill C-18.

The company said it was conducting tests on ending news access for a small percentage of Canadians. Between one and five per cent of the 24 million Canadians who use Facebook or Instagram were said to be affected.

Meta said this test is still ongoing.

“The changes affecting news content will not otherwise impact Meta’s products and services in Canada,” the company said.

On June 7, shortly after Meta announced it would conduct this product test, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said bullying tactics would not work with his government.

“The fact that these internet giants would rather cut off Canadians’ access to local news than pay their fair share is a real problem, and now they’re resorting to bullying tactics to try and get their way. It’s not going to work,” Trudeau said. 

Google, which has said it is considering the same approach as Meta to blocking news, said in a media statement on Thursday that it is attempting to “avoid an outcome no one wants.”

“Every step of the way, we’ve proposed thoughtful and pragmatic solutions that would have improved the bill and cleared the path for us to increase our already significant investments in the Canadian news ecosystem,” Google said.

“So far, none of our concerns have been addressed. Bill C-18 is about to become law and remains unworkable.”

The company said it is “continuing to urgently seek to work” with the government to find a “path forward.”

C-18 meant to lead to ‘fair commercial deals’: Ottawa

The federal government introduced Bill C-18 in April 2022 with the goal of forcing digital giants, such as Meta and Google, to compensate news publishers for the use of their content.

It is meant to address the “imbalance” between tech platforms and Canadian news publications, allowing them to make “fair commercial deals” without the need for government intervention, the federal government said.

Rodriguez said the amount of money each publisher receives from these digital giants will be decided by negotiations; there is no preset formula.

If no voluntary arrangement is reached, news businesses can initiate a mandatory bargaining process and go to a Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) arbitration panel for a binding decision.

In a media statement, the CRTC, which is tasked with overseeing the Online News Act, said it will soon share its plan for implementation and “set up the framework for mandatory bargaining between these parties.”

After reaching the Senate, C-18 received amendments and was sent back to the House. These amendments were an attempt to quell the growing opposition from media companies that say requiring payment for posting links is unfair. 

Rodriguez accepted 10 of the Senate’s 12 amendments and rejected two that he said would have materially changed the legislation’s intent.

Bill meant to support news industry, government says

Bill C-18 was pitched as a way to support an industry that has seen a steady decline since the emergence of the internet.

According to the government, more than 470 media outlets in Canada have closed since 2008, and at least one-third of Canadian journalism jobs have disappeared over that same time period.

The compensation that news publishers extract from these digital giants is meant to be used, in large part, to fund the creation of new content to protect the “sustainability of the Canadian news ecosystem,” the government said.

Bill C-18 is modelled after a similar law in Australia, the country that first forced digital companies to pay for the use of news content.

According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, more than $190 million has been paid already to Australian media companies since the law was enacted last year. The big winners have been legacy media and larger media outlets.

Tech companies strenuously opposed Australia’s efforts to make them pay for news.

Google threatened to shut down access to the search engine in that country if the bill went ahead as planned. The company ultimately relented and cut deals with a number of news outlets to avoid a binding arbitration process.

Meta says it will block access to news on Facebook and Instagram in Canada in response to a new law designed to force tech giants to pay news outlets for posting their journalism on their platforms.

Meta, known as Facebook at the time, ended up temporarily blocking Australians from sharing news stories on its platforms. The Australian government and the tech company ended up striking a deal and the news ban was lifted. 

“Facebook made the same threat. They left Australia for a week, then they came back,” Rodriguez told CBC’s Power & Politics.

“We’ll see what they do. We cannot base our decision as a government on threats from a company.”