Heritage Minister Accuses Facebook of Lying, Says They Wont Block News Over Link Taxes

The Heritage Minister accused Facebook of lying. He thinks that the platform won’t block news over link taxes.

Earlier, we reported on how Facebook made the surprise admission that they haven’t ruled out blocking news in Canada. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, said that they are still looking over the legislation and trying to consider next steps. They told lawmakers that they have some very serious concerns about the bill in question. When pressed on whether or not they would consider blocking news in Canada, they said that they haven’t ruled it out at this time.

Shortly after the news hit, Canadian Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez seemingly threw a fit. He seems convinced that this whole idea is a bluff and that they would never dare block news links in Canada. From Global:

Rodriguez said he did not expect that would be popular with Canadians.

“They made the same threat in Australia and at the end of the day they stayed,” Rodriguez told reporters Wednesday ahead of the Liberal caucus meeting.

“It wasn’t well-received by the Australian people and I don’t think it would be well received by the Canadian people.”

If the Minister really thinks that Meta bases their business decisions on what is popular among users, then that is the first sign he’s pretty clueless about how Facebook operates. After all, Facebook has done a lot of unpopular things, but didn’t let it bother them enough to change course on a number of issues. What’s more, the comments seems to stem from a poll conducted in Australia about whether Australian users liked the idea of news being blocked. It had nothing to do with whether or not it was even a factor in Facebook’s decision to reverse the blocking. This perspective seems to come from the warped lens of pro-link tax propaganda rather than what actually went down in Australia.

What’s more is the Minister is accusing Facebook of lying about whether or not Meta was consulted on the legislation. Meta says that they weren’t consulted on the legislation:

Rodriguez said this was not true.

“They lied,” he told reporters in French.

“Facebook yesterday in committee said they had not been consulted, which is not true,” he added.

He said he had met Meta personally on Feb. 10 and that his staff spoke with the company regularly.

He said Meta had not seen the bill before it was tabled in the House of Commons, which is in line with parliamentary procedures, but the company was consulted along with other platforms.

Isn’t that nice? He met Facebook once and staff gave them a phone call or two. Meanwhile, big publishing was lobbying the government once every four days. One of these things is not like the other.

Of course, lost in all of this is the fact that if Facebook does ultimately choose to block news, that is their business decision to make. There isn’t a law saying that Facebook must link to news articles in the first place. If there was one, it would be unconstitutional. Even if such a law were to pass constitutional muster (good luck with that), then nothing is stopping Facebook from leaving Canada entirely. Canada’s population isn’t exactly massive in the grand scheme of things. What’s more, Facebook’s power is such that alternatives for users would be hard to come by. Functionality alone isn’t enough with such a user base.

The Heritage Minister seems to think that if he’s belligerent enough, he’ll just get his way on this. The problem is that he isn’t the one holding almost all of the cards in this scenario. That honour goes to Facebook here. If Facebook chooses against blocking news in the end, it won’t be because it might be considered “unpopular”, but rather, the cost of bolstering a monopoly outweighs simply putting a foot down on this issue. Does Facebook further solidify their dominant position by going along with this scheme or is it more cost effective to block news? That is probably the real question weighing on Facebook executives minds at the moment. Right now, they aren’t entirely sure from the sounds of things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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