Canada Was Warned: Meta (Facebook) to Block News Links if Bill C-18 Not Amended

Meta/Facebook has confirmed that it will block news links if Bill C-18 is not amended. It’s the latest warning from them.

Facebook has already repeatedly warned that it is considering blocking news links in Canada should Bill C-18 be left unchanged. The threats were paired with news of the company slashing 13% of its workforce in an effort to save money. This along with statistics showing that only 4 in every 1,000 links points to a news article and the company moving away from news altogether.

In response to all of this, the Canadian government and it’s big media corporate allies have accused Meta of bluffing or saying that this is just a negotiation tactic. Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, even went so far to say that it is just an intimidation tactic. The reality is that all of these are signs that Facebook may start sticking one foot out the Canadian door.

Today, we are learning that Facebook is now officially having one foot out the door in Canada. They have said that if Bill C-18 is not changed, then the platform will begin blocking news links in Canada. From the Globe and Mail (Probably paywalls):

Tech giant Meta has decided to block Canadians’ ability to view or share news content on Facebook and Instagram if Ottawa’s online news bill becomes law, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The company made the decision this week amid concerns that it is not clear what the financial burden imposed by the legislation, known as Bill C-18, will be.

The bill would make Google and Meta compensate news organizations for posting or linking to their work.

A spokesperson for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said the company is planning to remove Canadians’ access to both written and broadcast news after Bill C-18 becomes law, if changes to the legislation are not made. The tech giant said it would warn Canadians of changes to its services in advance.

“If the Online News Act passes in its current form, we will end the availability of news content on Facebook and Instagram for people in Canada,” said Lisa Laventure, a Meta spokesperson. “A legislative framework that compels us to pay for links or content that we do not post, and which are not the reason the vast majority of people use our platform, is neither sustainable nor workable.”

Posts with links to news articles make up less than 3 per cent of what Canadians see on their Facebook feeds, she added. She said this is not a significant source of revenue.

Facebook has warned that the system Bill C-18 would set up would allow publishers to charge it for as much content as they want to post on the platform, “with no clear limits.”

The announcement is absolutely not surprising. When you are about to incur unlimited liability for something that is a minor fraction of your overall business model, the obvious answer is to just cut off that liability at the source and not offer support for such a service. It really is the worlds easiest decision from Facebook’s perspective.

Of course, publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers. While the cutoff of links on Facebook would be of minor consequence to the platform at most, such a move would be devastating to publishers of all shapes and sizes. For some, the idea of Facebook cutting off news links would be a death sentence to some of these publishers. While a number of small independent outlets have pushed back against the link tax for obvious basic survival reasons, the largest players, along with whoever they scammed into going along with their scheme, have been pushing the gas pedal to the floor to drive their business models right off of the cliff.

No doubt, they will urge the government to hold the line as they continue to entertain their delusional beliefs that this is still all just one big bluff and that the world well and truly revolves around them and their product. Obviously, as the hard evidence points out, the presence of news on these platforms are not the reason that these platforms are successful – not by a long shot. What’s more is that whatever meagre benefits the platforms have been getting from news publications, those benefits are shrinking fast.

Naturally, the problem is that the largest players have successfully convinced the government to drag the entire rest of the industry with them to the grave. This thanks to how the bill is worded in that if its a news link, regardless of what the publishers views are, that news links must be compensated for. It’s why smaller outlets are fighting so hard against this bill even though it seems like a losing battle at this point.

With Facebook’s latest comments, if news outlets haven’t already, they need to begin preparing for a business model that doesn’t depend on news links on Google, Facebook, and a host of other platforms. Platforms are already signalling that they have one foot out the door here in Canada, so a total rethink of how the business is going to operate is going to be required if the intention is to continue as a news organization. Whether this is collaborations with other organizations, information, services for users or local businesses, or a variety of other ideas, the current model of putting it all on Facebook, Google, Twitter, is now seemingly in the last stages of existing. The floor is about to fall out and you are going to want to find something sturdy to hang on to now before it is too late.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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