Local news, Quebec publishers first targets of Facebook's block on Canadian news
Published Tuesday, June 13, 2023 1:03PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, June 13, 2023 3:56PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Some French-language media organizations and smaller local media outlets say they are being targeted by Meta after the digital giant restricted access to their content on Facebook as part of its fight against the Liberal government's online-news bill.
Chris Dell, news editor of ChrisD.ca, a Winnipeg-based digital news outfit, said some readers informed him Monday that they are no longer able to access content the outlet had posted on Facebook.
"It appears Meta is blocking some of our content, but not all of it," Dell said in a statement on Tuesday.
He said it's unfortunate that these measures are being taken in response to the proposed online news legislation, which would require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing news content online.
"As a small local news outlet, the majority of our traffic comes from Facebook and Google. My hope is that an amicable agreement can be reached between Silicon Valley and Ottawa that doesn't leave publishers caught in the middle," Dell said.
Sebastien Menard, editor-in-chief of Le Journal de Quebec, said its news is also being blocked from readers who view its stories on Facebook. That also applies to news shared by fellow Quebecor-owned properties Le Journal de Montreal and TVA Nouvelles.
"We launched ourselves a campaign inviting our readers to come directly to our website instead of waiting for news to come to them through Facebook," Menard said to The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
"When your social networks let you down regarding information, come on our news website."
Meta is running a test for the majority of the month that will temporarily block news content for up to five per cent of its Canadian users on Facebook and Instagram. It said the test began last week, but publishers began to take notice on Monday.
Meta said news outlets that are part of the test have been chosen randomly, and the definition of news content mirrors that laid out the proposed online news legislation, known as Bill C-18.
The company said it is working toward an "effective product solution to end news availability in Canada" so as to comply with bill if it becomes law.
Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, said removing reliable news sources from their platforms is an abuse of Meta's dominant position in the marketplace.
"Meta has just exponentially increased opportunities for bad actors, including hostile foreign governments, to sow the seeds of misinformation and disinformation, which will ultimately undo the platform, erode its own shareholder value and undermine social cohesion," Deegan said in a statement Tuesday.
"Democratic governments, regulators, enforcement agencies, publishers, advertisers and those around the world who value a free and plural press should be very alarmed."
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Tuesday that Meta's removal of journalism is an attack on democracy, and that the company is trying to intimidate a sovereign government.
Canadian Association of Broadcasters President Kevin Desjardins said local news organizations need the bill to ensure they are compensated fairly for the use of their content at a time when foreign digital platforms have cornered the market.
On Tuesday, a Senate committee finished its clause-by-clause consideration of the bill after a single two-hour meeting, passing about 12 amendments, the majority of which the government agrees with.
The bill is expected to go to third reading in the Senate this week.
The Liberal government has expressed its desire to have the bill become law before parliamentarians break for the summer.
If it does, Meta and Google would be required to enter into agreements with news publishers to pay them for news content that appears on their sites if it helps the tech giants generate money.
Meta said it will comply by ending news on Facebook and Instagram altogether. Its WhatsApp and Messenger messaging apps would not be affected.
Google has also indicated that removing news from its search listings could be an option.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2023.
Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.