Who has the right to regulate and disseminate news? An Online News Act (Bill C-18) enacted by Canada might augment the country’s news media organization’s revenues, but the act will deny Canadians to access news on social media platforms and via search engines, mainly Facebook and Google.
News is new, noteworthy information about the latest and important events. People need news to keep them informed of the changing matters in their localities and worldwide. And they cannot make informed decisions if they do not receive timely and reliable news. So, receiving authentic news seems to be a fundamental right.
For better or for worse, though, Bill C-18 is a binding law in Canada and is denying the country’s residents to access news on Facebook and via Google Search engine. This Online News Act was passed in June 2023 to prevent Canadian media organizations from further deterioration. Because of social media dominance and proliferation, a huge number of Canadians abandoned traditional news media, such as newspapers, television, and radio. They do not get news from these sources anymore; instead, they get their news from social media and search engines, such as Google.
A recent research conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, a Canadian Research, non-profit Organization, found that 85 percent of Canadians get their news online. Globally, people are moving from traditional media to digital media, and Canadians are no exception. The percentage of Canadians abandoning conventional sources of news is too alarming for the country, forcing it to enact the aforesaid law. With a very low rate of subscribers, the country’s media organizations are experiencing dwindling revenues, for their advertisements do not get attention or adequate buyers. As a result, the media organizations have downsized their operations and let go of many employees.
As news sources and Statistics Canada indicate, many media organizations have gone out of business, and others are grappling with continual challenges. According to Statistics Canada, more than 50 media publications disappeared within three years. Recently, a sharp decline experienced by Postmedia forced layoffs of big numbers of its journalists. Postmedia is a Canadian Network Corporation which owns several publications, including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, and Calgary Herald. Before the layoffs, the Network Corporation employed about 650 journalists.
Canada says Facebook and Google benefit from Canadian news content they link and share on their platforms but do not compensate content creators, whereas the social media companies do not agree. Since Facebook and Instagram platforms and apps are free to users, how does Meta company make money? “Nearly 3 billion people use Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp daily.” Too many services and companies advertise their products on the platforms. And each advertised product translates into money. As of 2023, Facebook has over 10 million active advertisers. They first create their business profiles, place their advertisements, and pay required fees based on allocated spaces for advertising. After that Facebook and Instagram embed “buy” messages in news content, and persuade consumers to buy advertised products.
Research shows that Meta and Google get 85 percent of advertising market shares. As cited, Canadian traditional media organizations lost 80 percent of their advertising markets to social media companies. “In Canada, 80% of all online advertising revenue (CAD$9.7 billion for 2020) now goes to Meta and Google.”
To safeguard the interest and existence of the country’s traditional media organizations, Canada demands that Big Tech companies compensate Canadian media organizations if the Tech companies want to host Canadian news content on their platforms. The country is asking them to pay an annual fee amounting to $172 million for Google and $62 million for Facebook, but the social media companies are protesting this financial demand.
Both Meta and Google make a lot of money. In 2022, Google received an annual net income of $59.972 billion, whereas Meta got an annual net profit of $23.1 billion. Despite these enormous profits, though, the Big Tech companies refuse to yield to Canada’s demand. And they do not, as they argue, profiteer at the expense of the country’s news media organizations. Furthermore, these American technology companies state that they do not post Canadian news content on their platforms unlawfully; instead, it is the Canadian news outlets that voluntarily share content on social media to expand their audiences and get more attention. “The Online News Act is based on the incorrect premise that social media companies benefit unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, but the reverse is true,” said Lisa Laventure, spokesperson for Meta.” Rather than pay up, Meta has stopped posting and sharing Canadian news stories on Facebook and Instagram platforms. End of the story. And Google is vowing to follow suit soon. “Unfortunately, the only way we can reasonably comply with this legislation is to end news availability for people in Canada,” said Meta.
The Online News Act is denying Canadians to access news on Facebook and via Google search engine. How many Canadians are connected with Facebook? Canada’s population is over 38 million, 31 million of whom are Facebook users as of this current year (2023). That is a quite high number indeed. Now that Facebook is blocking Canadian news content from its platform, how Canadians are faring? They are troubled, especially immigrant communities, whose source of news is Facebook. And Somalis are one of these immigrant communities in the country. Immigrants are so tied to their motherlands when it comes to communication and sending remittances.
The inability to share and receive news on Facebook is a big blow to them. Many of them do not even know any other information sources except Facebook and Google. They are feeling the heat already. Take the Somali community in Canada, for example. Close to seventy thousand Somalis are said to reside in Canada, and the vast majority of them use Facebook as a news source, but not anymore. Neither viewing news nor sharing it on Facebook is possible for them now, and they are prompted to a message saying “People in Canada can’t see this content. In response to Canadian government legislation, news content can’t be viewed in Canada.” A statement on Meta’s website reads, “The blackout is now official. Meta, the internet giant that operates Facebook and Instagram, has done exactly what it promised: block all news content from the feeds of Canadian users.”
Since they cannot get news on Facebook, Canadians have to seek out news directly from media organizations’ websites, or go back to traditional sources of news( newspapers, radio, and television) How many people are familiar with these media organizations’ websites? Not too many, for sure. With a countless number of people unable to surf the net, blocking news on Facebook complicates the conditions of those living in Canada.
Canadians will suffer and will have their lifestyle journalism diminished if the dispute surrounding Bill C-18 remains unresolved. While Canada has the right to stand up for its media organizations and safeguard their interests, the country is equally responsible for enabling residents to access news easily. In this digital age, people receive news on social media platforms, Facebook being the first one. Denying its access is a big disservice to the country’s population. Hence, Canada, Meta, and Google need to reach an agreement aimed at normalizing news following so that the country’s residents get access to news and entertainment as other people of the world do.