CBC Thinks Boycotts Failed Because it’s too Hard to Quit Meta, But Problem is Deeper Than That

It seems that the CBC is doing some soul searching on why the Meta boycotts failed. They think it’s because it’s too hard to quit.

The large media lobby has been trying to figure out how to retaliate over Meta’s refusal to hand them large sums of free money. Coked up on their own talking point supply, they convinced themselves that platforms like Meta are wholly dependent on news content and wouldn’t last long after they blocked news links. Reality, of course, came crashing in, bursting that reality bubble. Following the news link blocking, Meta’s traffic remained unchanged while traffic for media companies plummeted. Reality is stubborn in that publishers need platforms far more than platforms need publishers.

Unsurprisingly, this led to further desperation on the media companies part. Faced with the threat of the idea that platforms don’t need their news links, the media lobby decided to try and find ways of retaliating. There was the Competition Bureau complaint which tries to make the argument that it is illegal for Meta to refuse to “steal” the news media content. The other tactic was to initiate multiple boycotts.

Since the media was still high on their own talking point supply, the media convinced themselves that all of Canada was behind them on their cause. The people criticizing their approach are just paid shills working for Big Tech in their minds. So, all they needed to do was to get people to stop advertising or going to Meta and Meta would have no choice but to reverse course. Indeed, self-delusion is a powerful drug sometimes.

So, the media lobby and the Liberal government launched an advertiser boycott. They were convinced that everyone across Canada will happily join in on the boycott because, you know, everyone is behind them on this cause because, uh, reasons. The Liberal party itself refused to participate, instead opting to just cheer on others for doing so while they, you know, happily fed at the trough hoping no one notices (Narrator: it didn’t go unnoticed). Reality came crashing down as the few that did participate didn’t have the advertising budgets to make even a scuff mark on Meta’s revenue streams. To the surprise of no one, the boycott failed.

Undeterred by that failure, FRIENDS launched a second boycott of Meta. That one involving users hearing the rallying cry and leaving Meta in droves, forcing Meta to pivot on their position and come crawling back. Obviously, users don’t, by and large, use Facebook primarily for the news content. Of course, that’s just pesky facts getting in the way. Reality, however, proved to be a tough nut to crack and the boycott ended in failure.

With a growing track record of failure, the media was determined that their talking points will eventually win out. Simulating the definition of insanity, the lobby launched a third boycott of Meta. It was another user boycott because, well, this time will be different because, uh, reasons. To the surprise of no one paying attention, the so-called #DayWithoutMeta boycott ended in abysmal failure after almost no one participated in it.

The reasons for the failures was obvious. Social media does not depend on news content. While the media companies like to think that the whole world revolves around them, the reality is very different and the biggest problem facing media is getting people interested in the news. The large media companies lobbied for and got a bad bill passed. Now, they are facing the consequences of their actions and they are furious that those consequences are real. They aren’t mad enough to push for the rescinding the law, of course. I mean, that would actually be a step into solving the problems they made for themselves, but they are sure mad about the situation.

Recently, though, it seems that the CBC decided to do a little soul searching over what the heck went so horribly wrong. According to their article, things went sideways because… it’s just too hard for advertisers to quit Meta. I’m not kidding:

As the fight between the Trudeau government and Meta — which owns the Facebook and Instagram platforms — escalated after Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, became law in June, at least one party has vowed to keep its dollars away from the company.

But experts say political advertising on Meta still delivers unmatched social media outreach and parties would struggle to replace it.

“For the real players here who are attempting to really influence voters on a mass scale with real budgets, they’ve just invested so much money into these platforms over the years, they’ve collected so much data, that starting from scratch with something else is not realistic,” said Dennis Matthews, president of the advertising agency Creative Currency and former communications adviser to Stephen Harper.

Matthews said it makes sense that the federal Liberals — who were seen as digital advertising trailblazers in Canada in 2015 — might be unwilling to close the door on the platform.

“If you’re mad at Meta, that may be a government position. That may even be their personal position. But the reality is, they’ve just invested so much into the platform over the years,” he said.

“Meta is the dominant platform online [for] reaching voters. And so there’s not a natural number two to be going to here.”

Alex Marland, a professor of political science at Acadia University, said the Liberals face a choice between exploiting a long-standing digital advertising strategy and remaining consistent in their messaging.

“The challenge I think for them is they’ve got to decide whether [it’s] worth the sort of allegations of hypocrisy that would arise if a Liberal government is saying they’re opposed, and yet the political party is saying it’s OK. They’ve managed to kind of walk that tightrope so far,” he said.

Now, credit where credit is due, here. At least this news organization is more or less admitting that the advertiser boycott didn’t exactly go to plan. What’s more, they are carefully walking around on the point that the Liberals couldn’t be bothered to participate in the very boycott they kicked off. Still, saying that the Liberals are somehow walking a tightrope here is putting on some serious level of spin on the situation. The reality is that the Online News Act is in the process of being a massive policy failure and the failed boycotts were the humiliation cherry on top of this pile of fail. As a result, the media in Canada is going to get absolutely ripped apart here.

It’s worth pointing out, though, the admission of there not being a viable “number 2” for advertising. Indeed, without Google or Meta, you are kind of diminishing your own advertising impact as a whole. The reason why there is no “number 2” in the Liberal parties books is because most of the audience has moved to those platforms and away from the media. This further highlights the diminished role the media has these days. The media’s diminished role is largely thanks to an overall lack of innovation and focus on venture capital ownership which ended up bleeding a number of news rooms dry of investment. This over top of the long standing refusal to admit that the internet is anything but a fad that would just go away on its own in a year or so. Business as usual didn’t work and it has contributed to the problems they face now.

The article then went on to make this note that is destined to not age well:

Thierry Giasson, a professor of political science at Laval University, also pointed to the likelihood of parties being accused of hypocrisy for taking hard stances against Meta while continuing to advertise on its platforms.

Giasson said that presents voters with a contradiction between parties’ ideological positions and the actions they take as “political organizations that are in the business of winning elections.”

He also said that while the federal Liberals, trailing in the polls, are likely to launch a major communications campaign in the near future, Meta won’t play a role in it.

“There’s no way that the Liberals are going to be advertising on the Meta platforms and maybe other social media” during the current conflict, he said.

(insert audience laughter here)

Clearly, Giasson hasn’t been paying attention, then. After all, according to the Meta transparency report, the Liberal party launched a series of ads just this month. This was a followup to the ads launched last month in August, which was a follow-up to the larger ad campaign in July, which was a follow-up to- do I really need to continue here?

These comments smack of the classic “any day now” meme. I’ll believe a full stoppage of ads when I see it, but since a lot of attention is focused on a lot of other issues right now, it’s far more likely that the Liberals will calculate that it won’t cost them politically to just continue running ads. I don’t see the political calculation to stop at this point.

Of course, while the failed boycotts were, indeed, a massive humiliation on the part of both the government and the media lobby, their problems of getting enough parties on board is only the beginning of their problem. The reality has long been that platforms don’t depend on news link to keep their operations afloat. What’s more, companies like Meta are global corporations. Even if you managed to get all of Canada on board with this cause, it is questionable whether or not Meta would even budge on this. They have advertisers all over the world shovelling money to them to get their messages out there. Taking a large financial hit in Canada is something that would be trivial for them.

If every advertiser were to stop their campaigns on Meta in Canada, Meta would just let the cash flow in from other countries like the United States, Britain, Australia, and other countries. It’s a cost they can absorb very easily. The same is said for users. If everyone in Canada did stop using the platform for a year, the user engagement in other countries would be more than enough to keep Meta afloat.

The hard reality is that the media companies are out of options – and that has been the case since the moment the Online News Act became law. It was only a matter of time before that realization set in. The only viable choice the media companies have in turning things around is to push for the government to rescind the law. It would be a humiliating moment, but what’s more important? Personal pride or the future of their respective companies? The longer they are convinced that holding the line is more important, the longer their strife will end up being. Everything about their situation is entirely self-inflicted here.

Are there ways of regulating the large tech companies? Absolutely. Are link taxes the way to go? Absolutely not. A push to regulate tech companies could’ve actually been productive. Between meaningful privacy reform, reforms to the competition laws, to new laws regulating the ad tech sector, there were numerous approaches that would have been better. Instead, people wasted their time, money, and effort on a stupid link tax law that predictably wound up being self-destructive. The large media companies can justify this approach all it wants, but reality just doesn’t care. All we can do now is sit back and wait to see how long it takes before the large media companies stop punching itself in the face.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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