iPolitics Canada Deletes Its Own Credibility, Pushes Link Tax Propaganda

iPolitics Canada is the latest publication to sacrifice its own credibility by pushing link tax propaganda and misinformation.

iPolitics, part of the larger media conglomerate owned by the Toronto Star, is launching a fresh propaganda campaign aimed at renewing the push for a link tax in Canada. In the process, they basically threw their own credibility in the trash when it comes to issues surrounding the link tax. Of course, knowing who owns iPolitics makes it easier to understand why they decided to push these conspiracy theories. After all, the Toronto Star was part of a similar push back in February with their “Disappearing Headline” campaign that amounted to misinformation and propaganda. After putting their credibility in the trash can, they apparently lit a match and set it on fire by publishing misleading claims about Bill C-10 on top of it all last month.

So, what is the latest propaganda pushing? Well, first we need to take a look at the publication in question. In that piece, they are very upfront about how they are basically breaking their journalistic standards by even launching this campaign in the first place. They posted the claim that they are taking the Trudeau government to task. The first claim they published is this:

We wish it didn’t have to come to this. It wouldn’t have, if the prime minister and his government had kept their word. But when the future of local news is at stake in Canada, we won’t hesitate to put aside our usual differences and take a strong public stance to hold the government to account.

For months now, the prime minister and his minister of Canadian Heritage, Steven Guilbeault, have promised legislation to rein in the monopoly abuses of Google and Facebook, and their attack on local news in Canada.

Putting aside the overly dramatic claims of how local media is dying (which is actually an unrelated problem to their cause), there is this claim that Google and Facebook is abusing its monopoly to attack local news in Canada. We tried to figure out in what way the two companies are directly attacking local news, but were unable to think of a single way they are doing this. Instead, Google and Facebook repeatedly point out how news organizations actually use their services to reach new audiences. Google News, for instance, directs millions of users to various news websites including small local news sites. The service, itself, is free and ad free, so Google isn’t even really making any money off of that service. Facebook, of course, similarly has pointed out in the past that news organizations get billions in value for free for using their services. If anything, these two services have actually helped float many news organizations during the transition from dead tree printed media to the medium of today: the Internet.

So, as far as we can tell, the claim that Google and Facebook are somehow abusing their monopoly to attack journalism in Canada is simply false, and, in theory defamatory. So, we are already starting off on a false premise. Nevertheless, we continue:

It’s part of a relentless onslaught around the world by the two web giants. They exploit their position as de facto gatekeepers of the internet to hoover up the lion’s share of online advertising, and to distribute the work of hardworking, professional journalists without compensating them. News media are choked off from the financial resources they need to report the news. And the news-media ecosystem is shattered.

The first part of the claim is that Google and Facebook are essentially gatekeepers of the Internet. This relies on the false concept that the Internet is just Facebook and Google. The reality is, Facebook and Google, while they are big players, are far from being the only services online today. The number of services online today ranges in the millions, if not, billions. For instance, DuckDuckGo also operates a more privacy focused version of online search. There is also Bing which is owned by large tech company, Microsoft. Also, Facebook doesn’t have a monopoly given that there are platforms like tumblr and LiveJournal are two examples of other platforms people can communicate on. One could really write an entire encyclopedia of alternatives for Facebook and Google, but either way, the idea that Facebook and Google are the only two games in town is a false narrative.

The second argument is that the two services post the stories of journalists without compensating. This is another false claim that relies on ignorance of how the Internet works to be believable. The reality is that Google News doesn’t index your articles without manually submitting an RSS feed (and some pieces of information) to them. Website owners have to actively do something to be part of that service. Further, Google search will not index your page if you actively code your site to block the crawlers. In fact, Google publicly offers resources to accomplish this. For any web developer, the steps to take to ensure your website is not indexed by Google is actually quite trivial. As such, if the fear is that Google is somehow “stealing” journalists hard work, then it’s very easy to stop this from happening – no legislation required.

The story is very similar for Facebook. In order to be posted on their services, you actively have to set up your own Facebook page and set up a service or system that allows your posts to be posted on there. So, stopping your stories from getting published simply requires removing your Facebook page or asking your staff to stop manually posting your content to that site. Further, if a publication feels that third parties are posting news stories illegally on Facebook, then Facebook offers a DMCA form that can be filled out to have that content removed. Facebook is located in the United States and is, therefore, subject to that horrific (subject to a different debate) law. So, again, no legislation is really required on that front.

Naturally, the misinformation continues:

All the while, Google and Facebook use these syphoned-off revenues to increase their own wealth and consolidate their power. It’s a vicious cycle that results in shuttered newsrooms and the silencing of credible local news.

This is, of course, further misinformation that omits loads of critical information. We’re not sure if iPolitics has heard of it before, but over the last year or two, there was this thing called the “COVID-19 pandemic”. We strongly urge the publication to look this up because it was kind of a big deal for everyone both online and offline. More seriously, though, it is well documented that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a serious plunge in ad revenue. Businesses all over the world shut down due to the pandemic as various countries went into lock down. This issue affected everyone and not just news publications. One news linking site, Fark, was very open by how much it impacted the site. For us, the ad revenue dropped significantly as well. It has mostly recovered now, but it certainly hurt us as well.

Another point to be made is that news services shutter for a huge variety of reasons. Throughout the 2000’s and early 2010’s, many news services looked at the Internet as some sort of fad that would eventually go away (kind of like Pog). Many were pointing out that the Internet isn’t going to go away any time soon and that they should adapt. Many news rooms decided against this and simply continued to run as business as usual, thinking that no one is ever going to treat the Internet seriously. They did so at their peril. Numerous news rooms shut down and entire staff were laid off as a result of those poor business decisions. The massive wreckage sparked the site, newspaperdeathwatch. The shut downs have been occurring long before Facebook overtook MySpace as a dominant player, long before YouTube had pre-roll ads, and even while Yahoo! and Google were duking it out to be the largest search engine of the Internet. So, to say this is all the fault of Facebook and Google is disingenuous at best.

In fact, a more recent shut down revolved around the news service, the Huffington Post. Back in March, the publication shut down its Canadian operations, slimming operations in Australia in the process (a country that pushed for the link tax law). As it turns out, the shut down occurred because employees were trying to unionize. Many feel that the shut down was an attempt to thwart that (a successful one by the looks of things). So, link tax or no link tax, the shut down was going to happen.

All in all, another claim that simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Canada is one of the countries where the web giants’ stranglehold is the tightest; they divert 80 per cent of online advertising revenues in Canada into their own coffers.

Last fall, we issued a comprehensive report on the crisis titled “Levelling the Digital Playing Field.” We urged the government to follow Australia’s example, which is standing up to Google and Facebook by requiring them to negotiate collectively with that country’s media for fair compensation. And they’re backed up with tough, effective enforcement. In just a few months, it’s already having a significant and positive impact in Australia, by reversing the two behemoths’ control, and by financing precious local journalism jobs across the country, in media large and small.

Unfortunately, the claim cites a paywalled article. That is seemingly quite convenient that the evidence they used is mysteriously unavailable to the public. So, we looked around to see what reports suggest is the situation in Australia and we found this Sydney Morning Herald article which offers up this tidbit:

Social media behemoth Facebook funnelled more than half a billion dollars in Australian advertising revenue last year through an offshore subsidiary to trim its local tax bill to just $20 million.

Local media companies have posted strong profits in recent months but were forced to slash costs and in some cases cut jobs last year due to advertising revenue falls of as much as 30 per cent.

Not exactly the rosy picture painted by iPolitics.

In talks with the government over the subsequent months, we were promised similar action in Canada. The government made the same commitments publicly, with Guilbeault promising — several times — legislation this spring. We’ve also been talking to all the opposition parties in Ottawa, and they’ve all said they’re in favour of reining in the web monopoly.

Well, spring has come and (almost) gone, with no legislation. Not even a hint of it.

This is kind of a weird thing to get wrong, but the Heritage Minister actually spoke about this in March saying that he wants a made in Canada approach to the link tax. In all honesty, that is actually more than a hint on the link tax law.

So, all in all, a piece that is loaded with accusations and conspiracy theories that just don’t stand up to scrutiny or reality. The problem is that the target is linking which is a critical component to the world wide web. It’s how websites function and how the Internet grows. By trying to tear down this core functionality, this exercise in ignorance runs the risk of breaking apart the Internet for Canadians – an Internet that Canadians have relied on more than ever before thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. To expect one industry to subsidize another simply because the other industry exists directly against the grain of how a free market should operate in the first place.

Let’s face it, if you are using Australia of all countries to guide you on tech policy issues, you have much bigger problems on your hands. After all, this is the same country that banned encryption, then used that encryption to crack down on journalism afterwards. Is this really the kind of tech policies that conglomerate media outlets are wanting in Canada? Unlikely. Trying to break the Internet by setting the precedent that you need a license fee to link to something is still ludicrous to the extreme. It’s 2021, are these media outlets finally going to get around to this whole business of adapting their business models to the modern age now?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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