Media Moves the Talking Point Deck Chairs as Their Facebook Audience Ship Sinks

After Facebook began rolling out the news link blocks, the media tries hammering their talking points one last time.

It’s curtains for the Canadian media getting a large portion of their audience from Facebook and Instagram. Yesterday, we covered the breaking news story that Facebook has begun dropping support for news links in Canada. The move was made after the government passed Bill C-18 and made the Online News Act the law of the land.

The royal assent of the now called Online News Act meant that Facebook and Google had a choice: either continue carrying news links and pay an uncapped liability over content that really means so little to their business models, or axe news links from their platforms and not pay another cent. For them, the choice was obvious: just drop news links and let Big Publishing go it alone.

Prior to the government capitulation, both Google and Meta said that they would be moving ahead with blocking news links. This scenario has been long warned about by observers, legislation critics, and the platforms themselves, yet the government chose to ignore it and called it all just one big fancy bluff. The government even grasped at their security blanket talking point and constantly used the “But Australia!” talking point even though it was a very specific set of circumstances that led to that outcome that don’t appear to be happening here.

Meta, for it’s part, has been especially consistent that this outcome would happen. After the government capitulated, Meta rejected the capitulation and said that they will still move ahead with the news links block. Last month, Facebook began running ads warning users that news links support will be coming to an end. For critics who have been seemingly right about everything up to this point, the move suggested that the blocking will happen sooner rather than later.

Well, critics of the legislation was correct again. Facebook began rolling out their news links block at the top of this month, fulfilling probably the second biggest predictions critics had about the bill (the biggest being Google would also block news links). The move by Meta signalled that Bill C-18 has now officially partially failed and is now set to wreak immeasurable damage on the entire news sector.

Some supporters are grasping at straws, insisting that this also happened in Australia, so therefore, these decisions will be reversed within weeks. In actuality, this is actually a repeat of what happened in Spain when that country passed their own link tax law. In response, Google pulled their Google News search services from the country. As a result, the situation caused massive damage across the Spanish news sector. As a result, the Spanish media sector spent years begging Google to come back. That history appears to be repeating itself here in Canada right now.

As I’ve said many times over, nothing short of rescinding the law is going to change anything. The blocks are coming, the entire sector will be greatly harmed, and everyone will be worse off (with platforms standing to lose the least in all of this). That, however, isn’t stopping the media from trying to push some more spin in a doomed effort to try and salvage the situation. Take, for instance, the CBC statement which reads as follows:

Meta’s move to deny Canadians access to domestic sources of trusted news and verified information — especially at a time when Canadians are depending on it to stay safe from the harmful effects of unprecedented weather events across much of the country — is irresponsible and an abuse of their market power.

CBC/Radio-Canada joins all Canadian media organizations who are calling on Meta to act responsibly by restoring Canadians’ access to news — all news, from all outlets, both public and private — and by negotiating with Canadian media organizations to compensate them for their news content.

So, here’s one of the recent big pieces of disinformation. When former Heritage Minister, Pablo Rodriguez, went on an international media tour to badmouth the platforms, he falsely claimed that emergency messages would also be blocked. Google, of course, responded by saying that emergency SOS messages would continue after news links gets blocked. It’s very likely the same situation here. If anything, the media companies are upset that they won’t be the big sources to carry that.

As for the second paragraph, it’s probably expected that they demand that Meta reverse this decision. The problem is, Meta has no reason to reverse that decision. Hilariously, the CBC provided an extra disincentive to reverse that decision by demanding money from the platforms on top of it all. The demand to do everything the big media companies say is a complete and total embarrassment on the part of the CBC because it confirms, once again, that the CBC is completely clueless as to why the platforms are doing this in the first place – and the reasons are extremely reasonable in this case.

Unifor hilariously proclaimed that without Canadian news content, the platforms will be totally irrelevant:

Meta takes the first step to making their platform(s) irrelevant

Obviously, Unifor doesn’t know what they are even talking about because the data continuously conclude that news content is continuing to drive even less traffic for the platforms – and that’s a trend that continues to go in the wrong direction for the large media companies. News media content simply doesn’t matter to the platforms and if there is an added liability associated with news links, the logical response is to not offer content that their users have told them they have little to no interest in.

While some people out there might think that this is more about messaging and trying to put pressure on the platforms to reverse their decision, polling data from Angus Reid last month shows that Canadians are not that supportive of the legislation despite being rightfully critical of how much power the platforms have online.

Ultimately, the only thing left for the media to do is whine and complain into the void. No amount of spin, badmouthing, or defamation is going to alter the course things have headed. The large media companies that pushed for this legislation have to deal with the reality that they have brought this whole situation onto themselves. What’s more, a contingent of smaller start ups will also be pissed off at them for basically threatening their business models as well in the process all in the name of unchecked greed.

For the media companies that pushed for this: Spin spin until your voices crack, no talking point will bring the platforms back.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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