Facebook Begins Rolling Out Full News Link Blocking in Canada

It was predicted, but now it is happening. Meta has announced that it will begin blocking news links in Canada on Facebook.

Experts and observers have warned this would happen. Unfortunately, those warnings were dismissed by the government and Bill C-18 supporters. Meta itself warned this would happen, but the government and supporters said that this is just a bluff and said that it didn’t work in Australia, so it magically won’t work here. Even just a couple of weeks ago, Meta began warning Canadians of the impending blocks.

Indeed, Meta has been consistent with their warnings even as the government pointed to the cliff and shouted “full speed ahead!” The only solution since the legislation passed was to repeal it. In fact, this is what many Canadians have been calling for, rightfully fearing the massive amounts of damage this law would have on the Canadian sector. Unfortunately, that one last way of pulling the Canadian news sector from the brink was extremely unlikely all the way up until now. As a result, nothing was seemingly going to stop the impending disaster.

Now, an announcement by Meta says that the news link block on Facebook will be going ahead starting today:

Updated on August 1st, 2023

In order to comply with the Online News Act, we have begun the process of ending news availability in Canada. These changes start today, and will be implemented for all people accessing Facebook and Instagram in Canada over the course of the next few weeks.

For Canadian news outlets this means:

News links and content posted by news publishers and broadcasters in Canada will no longer be viewable by people in Canada. We are identifying news outlets based on legislative definitions and guidance from the Online News Act.

For international news outlets this means:

News publishers and broadcasters outside of Canada will continue to be able to post news links and content, however, that content will not be viewable by people in Canada.

For our Canadian community this means:

People in Canada will no longer be able to view or share news content on Facebook and Instagram, including news articles and audio-visual content posted by news outlets.

For our international community this means:

There is no change to our services for people accessing our technologies outside of Canada.

The gravity of the situation cannot be understated. Facebook is a major source of traffic for many news organizations out there. Save for Google, Facebook traffic has been propping up numerous news organizations for years now. News organizations themselves know the value such traffic brings them. Many post their content on Facebook and some even take out advertising to “boost” their content to reach a wider audience. Losing access to that is going to be massive. Larger players will take a hit while smaller players will face total financial ruin as a result.

We are witnessing the end of an era in Canada and the consequences of this entirely avoidable situation are going to be felt for years. People who know this situation well will note how all the damage caused by the new law was entirely self-inflicted. Probably the only people who don’t understand the gravity of all of this are hardcore supporters of the new law and the government.

If you thought this announcement was going to be a turning point for this government, well, you would be wrong. Newly minted Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge said that the government will continue to “stand its ground. From the CBC:

Newly appointed Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said Meta has refused to participate in the regulatory process.

“This is irresponsible,” she said in a statement. “They would rather block their users from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organizations.”

St-Onge said the government will continue to “stand its ground” and suggested other countries are considering drafting similar legislation.

It’s about as clueless of a response as you can get.

For one, dropping news links on the platform is actually a method of ensuring compliance. During the first senate hearing, Heritage official, Thomas Owen Ripley, noted that if the platforms drop news links, then deals need not be struck because the platform in question has exited the market. The legislation itself is quite clear that this is about “making available” of news content (re: Section 2). Dropping news links in Canada does mean that the platform is in compliance with the law.

For another, the comments about this being about “paying their fair share” is completely meaningless. It is common knowledge that platforms drive traffic to these news organizations in the first place. The publishers get a net benefit from having their news links shared on these platforms. If anything, the publishers should have been thanking the platforms for keeping them afloat in the digital age.

Third, the comments that the government will continue to “stand its ground” should be terrifying to the entire news sector (though portions of it will continue to not know any better). It basically means that the entire news sector is about to be sacrificed by the Canadian government all because of, what? Stubbornness? Being inept? Refusing to understand how the internet works? Hope that there is such thing as a free lunch? Either way, the government refuses to understand the gravity of the situation here and it will put countless businesses and the future of Canadian internet innovation at considerable risk.

Probably the worst thing in all of this is that the full extent of the damage this law will have on the news sector may be yet to come. After all, Google has yet to act, though they did announce that they will end support for Canadian news links. There has been no word from Google about a response after the government capitulated, however. Still, Meta’s move will put even further pressure on Google to follow suit.

The Canadian news sector is entering into a dark era. Though supporters and the government will continue to exclaim “but Australia!” to comfort themselves, the harms in the real world will be all too real. No amount of talking points will undo what is being inflicted onto the news sector. All we can do now is monitor the “finding out” part of this whole sorry affair.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

%d bloggers like this: