Facebook Reiterates That They Will Probably Drop News Links in Canada in Response to Bill C-18

Facebook has recently repeated their comments that they will probably drop news links if Bill C-18 is passed as-is.

Last month, Facebook followed through with their warnings and said that if Bill C-18 is passed as-is, they would drop news links altogether. The announcement is probably one of the least surprising ones in this whole debate. Indeed, data suggests that 4 in every 1,000 posts are news links. What’s more, Facebook earlier slashed 13% of its workforce in a bid to save money after revenues began to plummet. Moreover, quarterly reports confirm that news links is not necessarily a big revenue stream for the platform in the first place.

Recently, a Facebook representative repeated the position that the platform will simply drop news links altogether if Bill C-18 is passed as-is. From The Hub:

“You’re basically putting like a toll booth in front of every link for a news article. And you can see why quickly that becomes untenable for us because we can’t control who puts it on the platform,” said Kevin Chan, the global policy campaign strategies director at Meta, in an exclusive interview on the most recent episode of The Hub‘s roundtable podcast.

“And so if we’re up against a rock and a hard place then we’re going to have to get out of the market,” said Chan.

Ultimately, the position remains unchanged.

Bill C-18 supporters seem to have two responses to all of this. One response is that Facebook is just bluffing in all of this. So, if you just believe hard enough, then Facebook won’t pull news links altogether. They simply wrap themselves up in the comfort of what happened in Australia and believe that Facebook and Google will simply repeat their mistakes in Australia here and just hand them money just because. Defying all the evidence with just a gut feeling is a really bad angle to go with and should be laughed out of the room altogether.

The reality in all of this is that Facebook and Google went along with this in a really short sighted idea that they would cement their monopolistic power and keep competition in their markets at bay by driving up the cost of doing business. Observers everywhere, including us, pointed out that this sets an awful precedence that will backfire on both platforms when other news outlets around the world go running to Google and Facebook, looking for their pound of flesh as well. As we are seeing in Canada, the US, and the UK, that is exactly what happened.

As a result, the real question for Facebook and Google is whether or not they want to repeat history and give away more money. If they simply pay the ransoms, then more outlets in other countries are going to demand more. It’s a never ending cycle of giving way more and more money until the platforms run out of money and go under. After all, even if we have every country out there with link taxes, then outlets are going to bicker among themselves as to how much money they should be getting. Afterwards, they will go running to Google and Facebook and demand more in a never ending cycle of demanding more money. This isn’t even a theoretical anymore as it already began happening in late 2021.

Ultimately, the choice is whether or not to keep repeating history and keep giving increasing amounts of money away for nothing, or finally put a stop to this and say “no”. Sooner or later, the platforms will have to say “no” to this because shareholders are going to start asking why the platforms are even doing this. How many times do you punch yourself in the face before you finally say, “ow, that hurts. I should stop doing it”? It really boils down to when this will happen. Does it happen here and spare the platforms from an abundance of pain or do they punch themselves in the face again? Bill C-18 supporters are just banking on the platforms punching themselves in the face again all based on a hope and a whim.

The other response for Bill C-18 supporters in all of this is to over-value news appearing on the platforms in the first place. The most sophisticated form is relying on cherry picked statistics trying to suggest that people use Facebook primarily to read the news. The reality is that users use Facebook for a huge variety of reasons. Take, for instance, this study which actually shows that news is struggling to stay ahead of brand research and funny memes:

With this more full picture, it becomes clear that news is by far not the only reason people use Facebook. In fact, it confirms our earlier notes that people also use Facebook for interacting with one another and sharing media. If you are using a service for a huge variety of reasons, suddenly no longer seeing news is hardly going to be a deal breaker for your average user. In fact, some might argue that seeing less news would actually improve the experience thanks to less politics in the feeds. It takes a lot to get people to move from one platform to another and dropping news links is hardly going to be it.

Other research confirms that interacting with others is still the main go-to reason people use Facebook:

Facebook is an accepted means of communication. It is a never-ending virtual social gathering filled with adopted puppies, cute LOL kitties, baby announcements, viral articles and videos, events, groups, organizations and fan pages. But why do people really use it?

The Bottom Line: Facebook Fulfills Our Need for Self-Presentation

Studies have found that on Facebook, the self you portray is not idealized – it is the real you. But a 2008 study by Zhao, Grasmuck & Martin found that the Facebook selves appeared to be socially desirable identities that individuals aspired to have offline but do not have – yet. Furthermore, identities created on Facebook differed greatly from those constructed in anonymous online environments.

What about Facebook’s impact on impression formation? If you’re going on a date with someone you meet on OKCupid, for example, chances are you’ve friended them on Facebook to get a better idea of them. Recruiters are using Facebook to screen potential job applicants. An overabundance of friend connections actually produced doubts about FB users’ actual popularity, according to a 2008 study by Tong.

The study concludes this section with the idea that Facebook profiles reflect the users’ public persona, which appears to be “shaped by the need for self-presentation.” These types of needs guide the users’ behaviors, profile photo and number of friends, all of which make up one’s impression of the user.
So, Why Are We Really Using Facebook?

Facebook currently has 800 million users worldwide. According to the study, people use Facebook to fulfill two basic social needs: the need to belong and the need for self-presentation. Facebook use is also influenced by outside factors, such as cultural background, sociodemographic variables and personality traits.

A third source actually puts news sharing at a very distant third reason as to why people use Facebook:

All this really shows why Bill C-18 love to cherry pick the statistic and leave out the context of the other reasons why people use Facebook. It’s an effort to over-value the presence of news links and undervalue the other reasons why people use Facebook. The research is pretty conclusive that it is more about communicating with one another. What’s more, it is more likely than not that dropping news links altogether will have minimal impact on user experience as a huge portion of users derive value from other reasons as well. Some users might miss news on Facebook if it disappears altogether, but they aren’t otherwise going anywhere if news links are dropped.

At the end of the day, Facebook taking the position that they will probably drop news links altogether is just the obvious position to take. They won’t be hurting if news links vanish overnight because users will continue to return to Facebook for other reasons such as timelines and their connections. The only ones who will get hurt from such a decision are the major news publishers who get huge chunks of their traffic from Facebook. Those same big publishers are the ones pushing this bill in the first place. So, if Facebook makes the obvious choice in all of it, Big Publishing would only have themselves to blame in the end.

So, unless Facebook and Google do something really stupid in all of this – namely go along with the link tax despite all of the above factors (and more) – then the dropping of news links is just the obvious outcome in all of this. The evidence overwhelmingly points to dropping news links as an obvious outcome should Bill C-18 be passed without change. When Facebook says that they will drop news links, all the evidence points to the fact that they are probably being open and honest here.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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