Bill C-18 lobbyists claimed that Meta dropping news links would spell doom for the company. Today’s stock prices begs to differ.
For months before the decision, Meta warned that the Online News Act (then called Bill C-18) would compel the company to drop news links from their platforms. The foolish Bill C-18 lobbyists and the media after getting high on their own talking point supply convinced themselves that Meta’s warnings were a bluff. In fact, some Canadian senators were also convinced of this bad talking point and went so far as to lash out directly at Meta, saying that they don’t believe Meta’s warnings. Other senators were much less confident in calling this a bluff and effectively braced themselves as the bill passed the Senate, hoping that maybe they are wrong in their hesitation in this whole sorry state of affairs.
On August 1st, Meta followed through with their warnings and, as expected, dropped news links from their platforms. The mainstream media and their lobbyist pals collectively expressed their shocked Pikachu face that Meta would do such a thing – even with more than one years notice. Unfortunately, though, rather than admit that they were wrong about everything (and they really were wrong about everything), they decided to double down on their own talking points while improvising new ones along the way.
Using their tired “But Australia!!!” talking point, the lobbyists convinced themselves that the blocking wouldn’t last more than a week (audience laughs). The conspiracy theory they cooked up was that Meta was entirely dependent on Canadian news stories for their success (audience laughs). By dropping news, some claimed, they would be cutting off their nose to spite their face (audience laughs some more). So, they theorized, all they had to do was hold tight, ride out this temporary “temper tantrum”, and they would come crawling back to negotiate deals before too long (audience laughs and applause’s at the humour).
A month later, reality came back to bite the lobbyists in the rear. News links were never restored, Facebook’s traffic remained unchanged, users didn’t really miss the presence of news links on the platforms, and user engagement to mainstream news pages collapsed. Reality was roaring back in with a vengeance. Publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers. That held true in this situation.
Sensing that they were losing control of the situation and that critics were right all along, the lobbyists hatched a new plan: get people to boycott Meta. The Canadian government spearheaded an advertiser boycott where advertisers would stand up to the principles of democracy and stop their advertising campaigns on Meta to teach them a lesson. The boycott was a failure on launch after the Liberal party refused to take part in their own boycott. Few even bothered with the boycott and those that did simply didn’t have the advertising budget to make a noticeable difference for Facebook. Ultimately, the boycott ended in complete failure. only the already converted participated and they represented a very tiny minority at best. Links still stayed off Meta, and Meta didn’t even notice a financial difference.
Faced with that massive embarrassment, lobbyists cooked up another scheme: a user boycott. Spearheaded by the out of touch lobby organization, FRIENDS, a campaign was launched, encouraging users to stop using Meta for 48 hours. The hilarious theory was that if users stopped using Meta, then Meta would have no choice but to negotiate so-called “deals”, thus getting the platform to come to heel. The embarrassment wound up getting compounded when the boycott ended in failure after almost no one bothered to participate.
You would think that the lobbyists would stop digging at this point. Hilariously, that didn’t happen. Lobbyists insisted that a user boycott will totally work and launched a third boycott titled “DayWithoutMeta”. The campaign was very poorly organized and seemed to exist in the form of a news article or two by the mainstream media. The day came and went and almost no one showed up, meaning the boycott ended in failure. If there were other boycotts that happened since, they were so small that even we didn’t notice them.
The problem here is that the mainstream media was facing looming disaster as Google was seemingly on course to follow suit. There was little coming out of the talks between government and Google. If Google pulled the plug, the Canadian Liberal government would go down in history as the government that destroyed the Canadian news sector. While the details aren’t clear, it would seem that the negotiations didn’t go very well for the government. The day the Act was to be implemented inched ever closer.
With mere days left to go, the Canadian government grew desperate enough to fold to Google by handing the “web giant” everything and calling it a deal. The deal sparked widespread condemnation from the media lobbyists as they furiously refused to accept the deal. The betrayal was palpable among the media types with seemingly only the biggest “winners” being happy about it – not that it did anything to protect jobs, mind you.
Some time after the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the mainstream media, some lobbyists cooked up a new theory. That theory was that they don’t need Meta anyway in the first place. Presumably, the theory was that Meta would become so jealous that Google was able to work out a “deal”, that they would eventually come crawling back and work out a deal. Some probably thought that this would happen before the Act came into force even. Like everything else, the lobbyists were wrong. Meta didn’t come crawling back and news links remain blocked in Canada.
With yet another conspiracy turning out to be a bust, the mainstream media then proceeded to throw another temper tantrum, demanding that the government enforce the Online News Act and go after Meta. Obviously, the government doesn’t have any tools to go after Meta here because there’s nothing in the law that says Meta absolutely must carry news links. So, the question is, what law is Meta violating? The simple answer is nothing. Meta is not obligated to carry news links in any way. Even if a law were to be tabled and passed, it would easily be challenged in court for being unconstitutional. The simple truth is that the media played their game and lost.
Probably what helped spark the temper tantrum was another conspiracy theory going down in flames. That theory was that media companies can always rely on “Plan B” and push harder to shakedown the platforms through the Online Streaming Act to, you know, make up for the difference. Well, the numbers, as we found out, aren’t looking very good in multiple angles. The chances are high that a number of the streaming platforms would rather leave Canada than pay the ransom payments through that law. Some might stay, but the resulting payday will be nowhere near what they were hoping to get.
All of this was very easily predictable. Experts have long warned that these would be the outcomes, yet they were attacked by the lobbyists pushing these laws as “shills for Big Tech”. It got to the point where independent experts had to preface their remarks by saying that they aren’t paid by Big Tech – a step that shouldn’t be necessary, but wound up being necessary because of the militant nature of those pushing for these laws in the first place.
With the mainstream media operating at a loss thanks to the Online News Act, some are thinking that Meta must be hurting by now. Without news links, users are undoubtedly realizing that there is nothing else to talk about. Some have even advanced the theory that, throughout all of this, Meta is experiencing millions in losses and would cave any minute now. Well, looking at the stock market value of Meta today, that clearly isn’t holding true. Here’s what I saw today with August 1st highlighted (the day Meta dropped news links):
We are now almost 6 months in to Meta dropping news links and this was the stock market response: a massive rise in the value. If there was any lingering thoughts that Meta would eventually cave to the “pressure”, this should put that to rest. I mean, the idea that Canadian news outlets held all the cards in this debate is so ridiculous, it shouldn’t even pass the laugh test. Unfortunately, the debate has gotten so stupid, this actually needs to be pointed out. Either way, everything about the above picture says that Meta isn’t hurting in the slightest because they dropped Canadian news links. If anything, apart from the weeks leading up to the COVID-19 drop, things have never been better for the company. Even then, it’s not really that far off of that peak in the grand scheme of things.
This whole experience should be very instructive to other platforms out there. Unless you wholly revolve around news links (and a vast majority out there do not), you probably don’t need news links in the first place to stay afloat. If media companies come knocking demanding ransom payments, dropping news links is probably the better solution rather than give in to the shakedown demands.
Simply put, the link tax concept should never have left the drawing board. The concept is so incredibly ridiculous, it should be laughed out of the room from the get go. Are there ways of supporting the media in general? Yes. A link tax, however, has the opposite effect and has caused considerable harm to the media in general in this country. Still, if there was any lingering hope that Meta would be hurting from their decision to drop news links, that is a completely dead concept at this point.