Facebook Mulls Blocking News Links in Canada Over Link Taxes

Facebook says it has some “serious concerns” over Canada’s link tax bill – so much so that it might block news in Canada.

Canada’s link tax law was tabled early on this month. It resulted in widespread condemnation from experts and digital rights organizations alike. We, of course, sent an open letter to our MP asking our MP to vote against it.

While some have compared the legislation to the disastrous Australian model, further analysis of the bill suggests that the legislation is actually a more extreme version, demanding payments for merely “facilitating access” to news, not just linking to them.

Indeed, the big publishers, who no doubt spent considerable amounts of money lobbying the living daylights out of the Canadian government for the legislation, have been seen pushing a massive propaganda campaign to sell the link tax to the public. At the same time, they were also actively suppressing articles critical of the legislation.

While the situation is looking quite grim for Canada, there might be a ray of hope in these dark times. Facebook has said that it has some “pretty serious concerns” about the legislation. Apparently, they have been studying the bill in the background all this time, trying to determine the next steps. As it turns out, for the social media giant, blocking all news links in Canada isn’t off the table. From IT Business Canada:

Facebook told a parliamentary committee that it did not rule out blocking news on its platform in Canada in response to a controversial law that would oblige social media platforms to enter into contracts with news publishers for the content they use online.

“The short answer is we’re still evaluating that legislation. We didn’t know the scope of it until it was tabled very recently. I will say we do have some pretty serious concerns,” said Rachel Curran, public policy manager for Canada at Meta, Facebook’s parent company. This statement was in response to Conservative MP Raquel Dancho’s call for Meta to “clarify that it’s not off the table that you would take similar action that Facebook did in Australia in response to C-18.”

It seems that Canadian Heritage decided to also be openly hostile towards Facebook as well:

Meanwhile, Curran told the same committee meeting that because Meta had not been consulted on the Canadian legislation, the tech giant “needs to look at it pretty closely before we decide what our future response will be.”

That claim was challenged by the Department of Canadian Heritage’s office, arguing that it was Facebook that chose not to participate in the consultations led by the Canadian government late last year.

This is pretty much a continuation of the whole department being hostile towards anyone and anything that is not 100% on board with legislation. After all, they have had their pockets lined with cash from big publishing for quite some time now, so those lawmakers know where their marching orders come from in the first place.

The contemplation is actually a bit surprising. After all, it was in August of last year that Facebook and Google were inking deals with the publishing sector. Given how much has been settled all this time, the idea that Facebook might pull the plug in Canada over linking to news would be quite a 180.

The deals alone caused some to say that link taxes aren’t really all that necessary. After all, businesses are working things out in the background, what is the point of legislation? In fact, at the time, a number of outlets were abandoning the push for link tax laws, causing a rift between outlets who are holding out for a better deal thanks to laws pushed by the Canadian government and those who left the bargaining table satisfied. It really put into question the need for such legislation in the first place.

Still, the holdouts were seemingly rewarded as the government bizarrely pushed for link taxes anyway, despite the developments. This made a sticking situation a massively more complex one. You already have deals worked out, yet the government was barging in with laws anyway, threatening to undermine what was built up already. Obviously, the decision to pull support for news articles out of Canada isn’t final, but it apparently isn’t off the table either. A pull out would easily undermine the work done by the other publishers as well. Those deals could easily be in limbo as a result.

So, there is reason to keep watching this area. There might still be some twists that makes this story even more interesting.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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