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Montreal's local news outlets blocked by Meta in Bill C-18 fallout

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As social media giant Meta pulls Canadian news content from its platforms, the nation's newsrooms, both big and small, are feeling the burn.

"I woke up one morning to a bunch of [direct messages] and screenshots from students telling me, 'We can't see your content anymore.' That freaked us out and sent us into panic mode,'" The Link Editor-in-Chief Zachary Fortier told CTV News.

Like a bulk of news outlets in Canada, the Link -- a student-run paper operating out of Concordia University -- relies on Meta's social media platforms to share its content. Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, is dropping Canadian news from its network in response to Bill C-18, the federal Online News Act, pushing news outlets across the country to reconsider a core part of their distribution models. 

Passed in June, the act requires tech giants to compensate news outlets in order to host their content.

In June, the company started running a test that limited news for up to five per cent of users, but recently said it is moving out of the testing phase.

"In order to provide clarity to the millions of Canadians and businesses who use our platforms, we are announcing today that we have begun the process of ending news availability permanently in Canada," said Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada, earlier this week

"I think it's awful," said Paul Graif, news director at K103.7, a local radio station in Kahnawake on Montreal's south shore. His station is one of three widely-consumed media outlets in the community, but Facebook remains an integral means of communication among residents. He says that, and without real news as a counterbalance to hearsay, Facebook is a superhighway for false information.

"It gets shared, and then it becomes part of the collective consciousness for everyone. And that's really scary because it's often misinformation," he said.

UQAM media researcher Jean-Hugues believes Meta is selling itself short by dropping Canadian news content.

"It's going to be more limited, less interesting -- fewer people will go on Facebook because of that," he said.

But it seems Meta doesn't see Canadian news in the same way. In a recent statement announcing the change, Meta wrote, "we know the people using our platforms don't come to us for news."

Roy says Meta made up to $4 billion in Canadian advertising revenue last year. The Quebec government, as well as several large companies, including Cogeco, Quebecor, and Corus Entertainment, have since pulled their advertising.

But the rest of Canada seems to be lagging in this regard, according to Paul Deegan, CDEO of national news association News Media Canada.

"We need the banks, the telcos, the airlines, the grocers, the large retailers to stand up for democratic values and to stand up for independent journalism," Deegan said. 

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