Even Justin Trudeau Has No Answers for Meta Blocking News Links

Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, spoke about the Meta test to block news links. He seemed to have no answers.

Earlier this month, Meta announced that it would begin test blocking news links for 5% of Canadians. The move is similar to Alphabet conducting a similar test back in February. The difference now is that we are at later stages of the Bill C-18 link tax debate and it is looking increasingly unlikely that compromise in this bill is forthcoming.

The prospect of the platforms blocking news links has long been the elephant in the room, one that supporters have intentionally tried to ignore or dismiss as little more than a bluff. All of this under the belief that the platforms depend almost exclusively on news links to power their business. The problem, however, has always been that the evidence suggests otherwise. Last year, it was found that only 4 in every 1,000 posts contain a news link in Facebooks main feed. This evidence was compounded by a study from earlier this month that concluded that news links is driving little and an ever decreasing amount of traffic on platforms.

Indeed, one can have many of a debate about who gets how much money, how much money smaller players are actually going to get, who is actually supposed to be eligible, how much should be disclosed in transparency reports, and many other things about the bill. At the end of the day, however, all of these debates are ultimately moot when you get into the very real prospect of platforms potentially blocking news links. As Canadian Heritage officials themselves admitted during their hearing discussing Bill C-18, the bill is built on the concept of an exchange of value. If the platforms exit providing news links, no exchange of value can be made.

The ultimate question in all of this is that if platforms follow through in their forewarned response to the bill, how will the government salvage the situation? The truth in the matter is that there is very little the government can do, if anything at all. There isn’t some law that says that news links must be carried and the prospect of adding in a provision requiring platforms to carry news links opens up the prospect of a huge and expensive legal fight surrounding the concept of compelled speech and asking whether it violates the Canadian Charter. What’s more, international law has no answers in this scenario.

Bill C-18 supporters were no doubt hoping that the government might have some ace up the sleeve – an angle that may have been somehow overlooked throughout the debate that overrules what the platforms intend on doing. Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, responded, but ultimately had no concrete answers. He just urged people to just believe that the situation would just magically fix itself on its own, continuing to insist that despite all of the evidence, the platforms are sill just bluffing. A disastrous response to say the least, though far from the only failed response from the minister.

Now, it seems that the Prime Minister is stepping in and trying his hand at salvaging the situation. It would at least put to rest the debate of whether the Heritage Minister was just handling the situation badly or the government was truly out of answers. In a video, a reporter asked how the government intends on responding to Meta test blocking news links and whether a compromise of some sort can be found:

Ultimately, the response was that the platforms are just big mean bullies and relied heavily on the notion that things will just magically fix itself. This was the Prime Ministers chance to lay out a thoughtful response. Was the government going to find some sort of sanction they can use against the platforms? Is there some sort of compromise that can be made? Can the government work out some sort of solution in all of this? Judging by Trudeau’s response, he didn’t have any answers let alone a plan to respond to the situation. All he had was a response saying that he is really really disappointed with the platforms.

The response was a disaster. Bill C-18 supporters who have been asked to just believe that things will magically work out on their own are now seeing that the government is running out of options here. A number of those supporters have banked their careers and whole business on the idea that the government knows what it is doing and that it’ll figure something out. It’s insane to think that now they are being asked to just pray because there aren’t any other options at this stage. There isn’t even a hint at a fallback plan in this scenario.

Ultimately, the platforms are well and truly in the drivers seat in this debate. This is a battle that is for them to lose. The only way that the government and Bill C-18 supporters have a hope in winning is if the platforms make the suicidal business decision of forfeiting in their moment of “victory”. In every other scenario, payment for links isn’t going to happen. Unless the government can find a new trick in their bag of pixie dust to make their situation any better, we are well and truly looking at a government that has painted themselves into a corner – and the whole news sector is about to learn a hard lesson that could see a number of players going under.

(Via @[email protected])

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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