How an Indigenous Push for Bill C-18 Inclusion Led to Getting Their Links Blocked

Indigenous news links are getting blocked on Meta platforms. The source of the problem appears to come from an indigenous source.

An off and on aspect of the Bill C-18/Online News Act debate is the impact on indigenous news. In the aftermath of the passage of the Online News Act, indigenous news links also got caught up in the blocking. The media, ever the “helpful” entities covering this, love to try and pin the blame on Meta for the decision. The problem is that the reason why this happened is far from a simple “platforms are being mean” or “platforms are big fat bullies”.

We’ve seen the story of news links to indigenous news sources getting blocked off and on over the last month or so. For instance, there was an article on Radio-Canada talking about this back in early August when the blocking was initially going down:

The owner of an independent digital news outlet serving Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada says she’s scrambling after Meta’s decision to remove Canadian news from its platforms.

Maureen Googoo, owner and editor of Ku’ku’kwes News, from Sipenkne’katik, 31 kilometers north of Halifax, says her work is important, because Indigenous communities are looking for someone to provide context and explain what issues of the day mean to them.

She told CBC Indigenous her site depends on the traffic from social media sharing and Meta’s pushback, related to the recently introduced Canadian Online News Act, is detrimental to her work.

“To me that’s more bread and butter than anything and I am concerned down the road of what it’s going to mean for us for a revenue stream,” Googoo said.

“Every month it’s always a balance for us. Are we making enough money to pay the bills?”

The story picked up some steam in recent days as well. Late last month, there was this article from the CBC:

The publisher of a First Nations newspaper based in Six Nations of the Grand River, Ont., says she’s “extremely concerned” about the impact on Indigenous communities of Meta blocking news content in Canada.

“In many cases, they’re in very isolated areas and for Facebook to pull a stunt like this, it can cause so many problems for our people to get information to them,” Lynda Powless, publisher of Turtle Island News, told CBC Hamilton.

“First Nations are in precarious positions to begin with … these are communities that just even have problems getting to the internet.”

Meta — which owns Facebook and Instagram — began ending the availability of news on those sites in Canada earlier this summer in response to the passage in June of Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which takes effect by the end of this year.

Now links and content shared by Canadian news outlets on Meta’s sites can’t be viewed by people in Canada. Users in Canada also can’t view news from organizations outside of Canada.

Google has threatened similar action.

CityNews also covered calls by indigenous sources for Meta to end the news links blocking:

The Union of B.C. Indigenous Chiefs (UBCIC) joined calls against the news ban on Meta’s social media platforms on Monday.

Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — made the decision to remove news from its platforms in protest of Bill C-18. The bill, which has yet to come into effect, would force companies like Meta and Google to pay Canadian news media for stories published on their platforms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier David Eby, and more have recently called on Meta to reverse the ban to ensure more Canadians can see up-to-date wildfire news.

UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says people’s lives area being affected while governments and corporations are taking a political approach, and wants to see people put first while dealing with a “dangerous and traumatizing” wildfire situation.

“Social media has become a community organizing tool that has a relied-upon, easy infrastructure for sharing news. We don’t know the long-lasting effect yet, but we already know that not being able to share news has communities disoriented and puts lives at risk. Government emergency websites and text notification warnings just don’t have the same reach and up to date information as social media does,” he said.

Additionally, there was an article on APTN News mentioning how indigenous news sources are getting hit hard just by Meta platforms blocking news links:

However, Greg Horn, the editor and publisher of the Mohawk community newspaper Iorì:wase, located in Kahnawake, says he has seen a 13 per cent drop in page views over the last few weeks.

“For small publications, that could be very detrimental,” Horn told APTN News. “Prior to this ban on news, we reached 25,000 accounts a week so to not know how many accounts we have reached in the last two weeks, it’s challenging.”

Before passing the law, the federal government previously said that Bill C-18 would “level the playing field” between global platforms and Canadian news outlets.

But instead, Meta walked away from the negotiation table and has since made good on its threat to block news. Presently, Google is continuing talks with Ottawa.

Anna McKenzie, a journalist with Indiginews in British Colombia, said they recently started sending out QR codes in their newsletters and encouraging people to print them out and put them up in their communities.

“Now outright, 43 per cent of our audience can’t access our stories because of the Online News Act and Meta’s response on Instagram and Facebook. So. It’s really scary, compounding the silencing of our newsroom in a lot of ways,” McKenzie said.

How did we get here? The unfortunate truth in all of this is that it was actually a push by first nations sources working the halls of government that led to this moment.

If you look at Section 27 of Bill C-18 in the first reading, you will see this:

Eligible news businesses — designation

27 (1) At the request of a news business, the Commission must, by order, designate the business as eligible if it

(a) is a qualified Canadian journalism organization as defined in subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act; or

(b) produces news content that is primarily focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes, and

(i) regularly employs two or more journalists in Canada,

(ii) operates in Canada, including having content edited and designed in Canada, and

(iii) produces news content that is not primarily focused on a particular topic such as industry-specific news, sports, recreation, arts, lifestyle or entertainment.

Nothing really relevant specifically for indigenous news, right? Well, compare that to how it reads in the final text of the bill:

Eligible news businesses — designation

27 (1) At the request of a news business, the Commission must, by order, designate the business as eligible if it

(a) is a qualified Canadian journalism organization as defined in subsection 248(1) of the Income Tax Act, or is licensed by the Commission under paragraph 9(1)‍(b) of the Broadcasting Act as a campus station, community station or native station as those terms are defined in regulations made under that Act or other categories of licensees established by the Commission with a similar community mandate;

(b) produces news content of public interest that is primarily focused on matters of general interest and reports of current events, including coverage of democratic institutions and processes, and

(i) regularly employs two or more journalists in Canada, which journalists may include journalists who own or are a partner in the news business and journalists who do not deal at arm’s length with the business,

(ii) operates in Canada, including having content edited and designed in Canada,

(iii) produces news content that is not primarily focused on a particular topic such as industry-specific news, sports, recreation, arts, lifestyle or entertainment, and

(iv) is either a member of a recognized journalistic association and follows the code of ethics of a recognized journalistic association or has its own code of ethics whose standards of professional conduct require adherence to the recognized processes and principles of the journalism profession, including fairness, independence and rigour in reporting news and handling sources; or

(c) operates an Indigenous news outlet in Canada and produces news content that includes matters of general interest, including coverage of matters relating to the rights of Indigenous peoples, including the right of self-government and treaty rights.

(emphasis mine)

Yup, there it is in all its glory: inclusion in indigenous news. Why was this added? There was a push by indigenous lobbyists to include, specifically, indigenous news. This inclusion happened even as the warnings of blocked news links were being made. By June 2nd, Meta started their tests of news link blocking. These warnings, obviously, were flatly ignored and were dismissed as a “bluff”.

In fact, prior to the legislation reaching committee study, two indigenous organizations asked to be part of the hearing. When they appeared, they were actively pushing for these inclusions even after they got it. In fact, one went so far as to say that they wanted to get deals just for the purpose of starting up small news organizations (not how the bill worked). In fact, Senator Paula Simons raised her concerns that, with the inclusion, indigenous news links risks getting blocked. The lobbyist shrugged it off, saying that if they get blocked, everyone gets blocked, no big deal. Here’s our summary of the exchange including my commentary in brackets:

Senator Simons said that Facebook/Meta has made it abundantly clear, whether it is a threat or a promise, that they will block all content that is encompassed by Bill C-18. Google has been a bit more oblique, but she thinks that that is their intention as well. Are they concerned at all that by making the definition of indigenous story telling, they could effectively create a situation where Facebook blocks everything that could be shared by APTN? If they interpret indigenous story telling to encompass their entire modus operandi. She’s very sympathetic to the argument LaRose makes that they weren’t able to make money out of the Local Journalism Initiative which sounds ridiculous to her. If, clearly, people are doing local journalism, they should qualify. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you should course correct by scoping in everything. She’s really concerned that if Google and Facebook make good on their threats, that they could be shuttered completely from being surfaced on the internet.

(That’s a really good point by the senator. If you have a much wider net for kinds of content you want in on the bill, and the bill backfires – which is likely in my mind – then you have basically increased your exposure to the shock of the drop in news links entirely. Moreover, there is that soft squishy language that could be interpreted in a number of different ways beyond the standard idea of news content like video or news links. So, the potential damage for such a decision would be more severe as a result.)

LaRose responded by saying that he thinks that if they are talking about news here, certainly every news organization would be impacted by Facebooks actions. If they did decide to block and Google did tests apparently, if they both have the infrastructure to block any news from any news organization, it impacts everybody (it’ll impact them more because of the added language of what is captured, though. It’ll impact everyone, yes, but they’ll be especially exposed to those shockwaves.) Not only are they not getting the exposure which helps them generate interest, but they are not getting anything for what they are doing anyway, so it’s a lose-lose from their end all around. If that is the case, and he’s not familiar with what the negotiations may be in Australia, but certainly, there was some conversations between the government and those institutions and they kept up with an arrangement that worked and now there’s something in place that seems to be working.

Senator Simons ended up being entirely correct and, judging by the reaction to the more recent developments, there are certainly indigenous news sources that aren’t happy about the ensuing aftermath which was correctly predicted.

Indeed, on August 1st, Facebook announced that they would be blocking news links. As they mentioned in their hearing, they would be using the Online News Act as guidance for what to block. Their announcement and ensuing actions pretty much proved that this is exactly what they are doing. From their August 1st announcement:

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.

Based on what was said in the Senate hearings, it sounds like the push for inclusion was under the false illusion that they were trying to join in on a massive financial windfall. That windfall was never going to happen, but certain lobby groups bought the talking point that threats were just a big bluff and it was up to aboriginal lobbyists to catch the massive financial windfall. The windfall never happened for obvious reasons that are more obvious now. What’s more, they are seeing their news sites getting blocked because of that inclusion.

In short, much like the mainstream news outlets, the push by certain first nations lobbyists backfired and is blowing up in everyone’s faces. As bad as the developments are, for parts of this sector, the situation was entirely self-inflicted. If anything, indigenous news sources should be banding together and calling for the rescinding of the Online News Act. That would be the best way to restore sanity to the situation. As long as those news sources continue to defend the legislation, then they will continue to be left out of the platforms. It’s as simple as that.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: