Bill C-18 Collateral Damage Victim, Jeff Green, Comments on His News Site Being Blocked by Meta

Jeff Green of the Frontenac News has spoken out about Bill C-18. This after Meta was forced to block links to their site.

The warnings of blocked news links as a result of the passage of Bill C-18 have already begun coming true with Facebook rolling out their news links blocking. The news links blocking has already hit numerous news websites, both foreign and domestic in Canada. As a result, the warnings of unimaginable damage caused by Bill C-18 are coming true. The news link apocalypse on social media is currently upon us. Even the RCMP is having to refocus their public messaging strategy as a result of this entirely self-inflicted disaster.

While the major media companies really only have themselves to blame for this current phase of “finding out”, the entities that really do deserve a lot of sympathy are the independent media that never asked for this and were,rightfully, perfectly content with how news links are handled. As a result of this terrible legislation, many are seeing a major source of their traffic suddenly get choked off. For some, the situation may require a considerable rethink on their strategy. For others, it is the death knell of their business.

Jeff Green of the Frontenac News has written his own thoughts on the situation and it certainly is worth a read. I thought it would be worth highlighting a few of these comments:

All of the posts on the Frontenac News Facebook Page have disappeared, and there is a note on the page that says “People in Canada can’t see your content: In response to Canadian government legislation, news content can’t be viewed in Canada.”

So I guess we are part of this story after all. The implications for the Frontenac News are that one of the means that we use to let people know about stories that we put up on our website each week, and about our services site is gone, so our reach as a news organisation is impacted.

The content is still there, still accessible to readers, and thus far the 15,000 articles that we have posted over the years at are still searchable in Google, but we are no longer able to use Facebook to let our 4,000 or so Facebook followers know about stories.

This may be an innocuous point, but it ultimately is very important. Part of the massive gaslighting campaigns by large media companies is that Meta is somehow censoring the news outright. That is absolutely not the case as Meta doesn’t even have that kind of power in the first place. The content is still available on the news sites in question. What is really happening is that the news links on those platforms is what is getting hidden from Canadians. While the large media companies and their supporters want you to believe otherwise, that is ultimately the truth in the situation.

Green notes that they have a physical distribution of their newspaper and they don’t actually generate a whole lot of revenue on their website in the first place. This is does mean that the business in question is reasonably insulated from the damaging effects of Bill C-18. The problem, however, is that growing their audience does become harder. This is because their audience reach will now become much more limited to the area where they circulate their newspapers as well as those who happen to have a connection to where the circulation focuses on. Yes, they can grow their audience on other platforms, but they lose Facebook, one of the largest websites on the planet.

Green continues with this:

At the same time, we have taken measures to improve our standing on Google, and every single day someone from around the world sends us an email promising to improve our standing even more, for a price.

And Facebook drives traffic to our site as well.

But, and this is why the whole issue seemed remote to me for a long time, neither Facebook nor Google have ever forced me to use their services. We voluntarily post on Social Media, and cultivate our standing with the Google spiders searching the web for keywords as well.

So, I’m not clear that they owe us anything, even though they do generate revenue from our content.

This is another critical point that is being made here. Anyone who builds a website are not forced to use Google or Facebook. You can very easily build a website that can suit your needs without the need of Google or Facebook. What’s more, it’s not like it’s some kind of law on the internet where “Thou shall use Facebook and Google”. If you use services from Google or Facebook, that is ultimately your decision. You can submit your RSS feed so you appear on Google News services. You can set up an automatic posting system on Facebook.

The keyword in all of this is “can”. Everything about this is voluntary. Perhaps the only exception in all of this is arguably general Google search with the search engine constantly crawling the web in search of new content to index. Even then, wanting to not be indexed on Google is pretty straight forward with the use of things like robots.txt. A vast majority of what the large media companies are complaining about is that the platforms are somehow “stealing” content and profiting off of it without permission. For reasons that should be extremely obvious, this is pure gaslighting. as we explained above, it takes work on the sites operators to appear in most of these services, constituting permission in the first place.

Green’s position about not being forced to use their services and using their services voluntarily is pretty much the standard norm for an overwhelming majority of website operators out there – including the large media companies making up defamatory statements about the platforms “stealing” from them.

Just to corroborate what Green is saying, when I set up Freezenet over 10 years ago, I started building it with the idea of voluntarily utilizing the power of Google to reach an audience. I set up a SEO (Search Engine Optimization) plugin to help bolster my rankings. What’s more, I also set up a sitemap to help Google better index the site in the first place. Moreover, I insert keywords manually to every single one of my posts to help add to the visibility of my web pages.

In 2018, I launched Freezenet’s Facebook page. I added some art that I manually created, inserted some basic information, then set up a method to automatically share these posts (a method that is nor really buggy, but I haven’t really bothered to fix it due to it being so far down the priority list). This so I can, in theory, reach larger audiences through that platform. While I don’t get much traffic from it (why it’s such a low priority for me), everything I did to make this possible required action on my part.

Some developers out there will deviate a little from this. In this regard, they will hire third party specialists to set up and manage things like their Facebook page. Not everyone out there are experts in expanding audiences on these platforms, so it’s perfectly normal to just let someone who does know these things handle this.

Regardless, everything about this is voluntary. What I did is very normal for a startup website. Website owners themselves are setting these pages up. The website owners themselves are creating systems to make these posts on Facebook. It’s voluntary actions on the publishers part all the way down.

Green does say that he is not clear that the platforms owe them anything here. Green is absolutely right to make this point because on what planet does using free services equate to those services owing the user any money in and of itself? There is no line of logic or reason that says “Facebook clearly owes me money”. At the end of the day, this is a shakedown, plain and simple. Big Publishing are pushing for a free lunch here, freeloading off of the platforms so they can continue not innovating or providing a product that users want to use. Right now, those large media companies are learning a hard lesson in “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

The whole basis of “linking is theft” is a completely false narrative. Referencing material is not a compensable activity. Yet, the media companies are trying to say that it’s different for news links and screaming “GIMME!!!”. The platforms are, rightfully, choosing to say “no”. The concept was ridiculous when this law was first in the works and it still is ridiculous to this day. As a result, Green is totally right in responding to all of this with a sort of “what gives?” response.

Where Green does kind of go off the rails a little is towards the end when he wrote this:

The way I look at it, the newspaper industry is facing an existential crisis, to be sure. The viability of print publications are in doubt because of costs and consumer habit to read things online, and it is very hard to create a viable online news service on a small, local scale.

The Government of Canada subsidises the newspaper industry in a minor way. As a free publication, the Frontenac News never received any of that money, until recently, and even now it represents 3% of our annual revenue.

The attempt by government to force social media companies to kick in some more makes sense because those companies derive benefit from newspaper content, even though that content is freely posted by newspapers on their platforms, but their kickback against the new legislation makes sense as well.

Somehow it will likely result in a deal at some point, and things will get back to normal. In the short term, our Facebook presence, and perhaps more, is gone, and at the News we are considering creating an email list to let people know when content is being posted.

The insinuation here is that this is just a temporary situation. History tells us that this may take a bit longer than a few days to resolve. In Spain, the impasse lasted 8 years – and it ended because the Spanish government finally rescinded the law. The Spanish situation (a situation the Canadian media is desperate to ensure you forget about because it ended badly for the media) is quite instructive.

For Canadian’s, a take home message in all of this is that this impasse will end as a result of one of two scenarios. The first scenario is the government rescinds the law. The second is the platforms back down. There’s no scenario that I am aware of where this impasse is reasonably expected to end. So, going over the two possibilities, neither side appears all that likely.

First, let’s look at the government side of things. Indeed, the government did, at one point, capitulate by watering down Bill C-18 in an effort to get the platforms on board after the bill received royal assent. This capitulation is problematic because it showed that the requirements for platforms to follow can change on a dime. Moreover, with other countries attempting to push through similar link tax bills, folding here would give those pushing for these laws two countries where they platforms folded under pressure (Australia being the other one). For these, and many other reasons, it’s little wonder why Meta rejected the deal and moved into the situation of dropping news links altogether.

As a result, this means that the only real way to break the impasse from the governments side of things is to simply rescind the law and start over, actually listening to all sides of the debate instead of blanket attacking anyone who dares to criticize the governments approach.

Right now, government officials are basically tripling down on their efforts, screaming how they will never back down on this. Moreover, they are attempting to move ahead with Digital Services Taxes despite the threat of retaliatory trade tariffs from the US government. This likely in an effort to desperately find another venue in where they can claim a victory over the platforms on something – anything. With thoughts of revenge top of mind on the government, the likelihood that they are going to just rescind Bill C-18 any time soon is extremely low. Truth be told, they’d rather watch the entire news sector burn than to admit they were wrong on this. Either way, the government finally making a sensible decision on this tomorrow is pretty much zero.

So, that leaves the platforms themselves. As I already mentioned, the platforms are seeing other countries like the UK trying to pass their own link tax legislation (the state of California is another example of pushing for such a terrible bill, though it is currently delayed until next year). The problem for the platforms is that the cost of allowing news links keeps going up.

While Bill C-18 supporters will just constantly scream and shout that the platforms have lots of money, basic logic and reason dictates that, for one, it’s not unlimited money. For another, the largest platforms have shareholders to contend with. The platforms need to give a good reason for taking on added liability – often that it’s the result of an investment that will pay off later. The problem here is that such a liability has absolutely no promise of netting an overall return in the first place.

Of course, this is only the beginning of the problems here. The other problem is that news links offer very little value to the platforms in the first place. Both Google and Meta pointed this out during their appearances before the Canadian senate, discussing Bill C-18. Independent research ultimately backs these comments up as well.

The overwhelming conclusion is that news links don’t drive much in the way of traffic from the perspective of the platforms. What’s more, if news links disappeared tomorrow on the platforms, the platforms would be unlikely to really notice a difference with their overall users. Even if you subscribe to the laughable notion that platforms depend wholly on news content (they don’t), research shows time and time again that users also use the platforms for a variety of reasons. In Meta’s case, the most common use is to connect with friends and family with sharing meme’s also being a major use.

As a result, the conclusion is that users use platforms for a variety of reason that go well beyond looking for news articles to read. If news links disappeared tomorrow, it, at most, means that a handful of people that are heavily into the news will seek it elsewhere. Others who use the platforms for a variety of reasons that happen to include the news will probably not like the decision, but will stick around on the platform as other kinds of content replaces it. For the remaining, what? 80% of people? They will hardly notice a difference because they aren’t even into the news in the first place.

The social connections that have formed on these platforms are strong reasons for users to stay. Despite what Bill C-18 supporters will insist, those users will likely stay on the platform as a result of those tight connections in the first place.

Either way, platforms have numerous disincentives to just fold to this new law. What’s more, they have the rest of the entire planet of people accessing their services anyway and have no problem just ditching a specialized kind of content in one specific country – content that doesn’t really mean that much to the platforms in the first place.

Because of this, the platforms have zero motive to go along with any of this. Everything about this is just liability – potentially unlimited liability – for nothing in the first place. Unless the media gets the miracle 180 and the platforms just fold for really no reason, the chances of the platforms backing down is near zero. They have a rock solid position and an absolute stranglehold on victory at this point.

The only thing they need to do now is have Meta finish rolling out the news links block and Google pulling that switch themselves. Meta says this rollout will be completed by the end of the month and Google has until December 19th to pull that switch. How quickly they can shut off news links on their services may very well affect how long before that deadline they will start doing this, but it may not be the only factor for them. After all, Facebook basically needed a month to pull this off and if Google needs a similar amount of time, then November may be the latest they actually start moving ahead with their shut down of links.

All signs ultimately point to this being a really long standoff. Personally, my money is on the government being the one to fold given their previous capitulation, but a quick resolution to this would motivate me to tell the media companies to buy a lottery ticket. The government has little actual care for the well-being of journalism as a whole (only the largest players really matter to them) and the platforms have plenty of money and revenue sources elsewhere to make this a permanent decision.

At any rate, Green’s piece really highlights another example of the small businesses becoming collateral damage in all of this. Despite the many times that supporters claimed that this bill is about “helping” the smaller players, the smaller players are the ones that will get hurt the most in this. It’s why when I heard that the federal government is contemplating bailouts, I suspected that the money will primarily go to the largest players in the first place – those same largest players where the money that was expected to come out of this bill would primarily go to in the first place. As usual, the little guy gets screwed in the end.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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