National Post Floats One of the Worst Arguments for Payments for Links Yet

We’ve seen a lot of bad takes and obvious lies from the major media outlets, but a recent National Post article may just take the cake.

With the Canadian government caving to Google, handing them everything and calling it a “deal” (arguably because the government was out of options), the link tax concept has officially died – replacing it with the originally asked for fund model instead.

Throughout the debate, we’ve heard a lot of arguments in favour of the link tax. The arguments for it typically ranges from weak to ridiculously stupid. Examples of this include how platforms depend entirely on news content to fuel their wealth (which is an obvious lie as vividly demonstrated by Meta), that platforms “scrape” whole articles, republish them without permission, slap ads on them and essentially pirate them (which is false because what gets posted are news links and snippets and those links typically get posted by the publishers themselves with the intent on deriving traffic for their websites after), the argument that falling of revenue is solely the fault of platforms (again, false because of countless factors including services replacing classifieds and coupons as well as a shift in technology), and that the link tax is about getting smaller players on board (which, of course, didn’t happen. I mean, come on, the largest players didn’t make these arguments because they cared about other players in the industry and out of the kindness of their hearts. That was stupidly obvious).

In the end, there was just no justification that is capable of defending the link tax law. It’s one reason why it is good news that the link tax concept is dead because it was a ridiculous thought experiment that should’ve gotten killed on the drawing board – let alone turned into law in the first place. Another thing I was looking forward to is not having to be accused of being a “Big Tech shill” for the crimes of explaining some of the fundamental basics of how the internet works. All that is now behind me, right?

Well, as it turns out, the National Post decided to do a text variation of opening their dumb mouths and defending the concept of a link tax. It could very well be one of the worst arguments for a link tax I have ever seen. The article can be found here, so you can read for yourself that I’m seriously not making this up (believe me, I wish I was). The argument is that a lot of work goes into writing a headline and making it credible, so there is a lot of value in that which should be compensated for. I know, I thought this was satire at first. Yet, a so-called “credible” publication really did make this argument:

Bill C-18, the legislation that led to this deal, has had many critics, including some of our readers. We respect disagreement and understand people’s skepticism of forcing one private business to subsidize another.

But Google and fellow tech behemoth Meta (i.e. Facebook) have benefited tremendously from news content as a vehicle for digital advertising — without making the investment in journalism that newspapers used to do when they’d cornered the historical advertising market.

Considering the public value of journalism, requiring these companies to contribute something toward that content is fair.

The fact Google came to the table is itself evidence of our work’s value to their business. When people go to a search engine, they are looking for credible information. It would have made no sense to exclude fact-checked and properly supervised newsgathering when it provides something users want. Especially when the contribution, shared between industry players, is so small relative to Google’s footprint on the web.

Among the critics’ most common objections is that pointers from Google and Facebook are “mere” links, and that news companies’ complaints would only be founded if the tech companies were displaying whole stories to users, gratis.

This misunderstands the effort and expense that goes into a credible headline. Before that free link can be posted on social media or pointed to from a search engine, the work first had to be done to find, verify and tell the story. Journalists squeeze the lemons, while the tech giants give away the lemonade.

(emphasis mine)

My reaction to that argument can be summarized in this famous meme:

Seriously, where do you even begin with a take this incredibly stupid? I’ll let you in on a dirty secret here: when journalists work on a news story, when they work on a headline, they spend a few seconds thinking of a headline that sells the story, then quickly write something up and then carry on working on the rest of the article. Writing a headline typically requires a few seconds of effort on the part of the person writing that news article. Sure, there are the occasional headlines that requires a little extra thought to figure out how best to summarize what you are trying to say, but that is the extent of effort in writing headlines.

The purpose of the headline is to sell readers on the story. This is not even close to being a new concept. When newspapers were dominant and the internet wasn’t even a concept being thought of, people perused newspapers by glancing at the headlines and determining whether or not they want to read the story. The headlines were printed in large font so it catches the readers eye. This is a very intentional design choice because, as I said, the headline helps quickly sell the story to the reader.

This concept translated nicely to the rise of the internet. Headlines on web pages are nice large fonts to draw the eye. Heck, this is a thing in basic HTML with the header tags. When content is indexed on search engines, websites are designed to allow crawlers to grab things like the headline so it could be republished easily for efficient indexing afterwards. This allows headings to compete with one another, competing for those eyeballs for people browsing the web. People generally head to search engines to be able to have content all over the internet neatly indexed. Websites benefited from this greatly because it increased the chances that people will view their content. So, web developers happily allowed their pages to be indexed – even spending billions in ensuring that their content gets seen over other people’s content.

The whole purpose of the headline is to quickly sell readers on the content. It is not common practice for journalists to consult everyone in the story and heavily gather facts solely for the purpose of creating a headline. All that fact gathering, interviewing people, and researching is meant for the rest of the actual freaking article. That’s how it is and that’s how it’s always been. This sort of thing shouldn’t be something to be charged, let alone be worth $100 million (which is an exaggerated amount when you read the details of it).

Whoever wrote this article (and yes, that is not clear in the source when I read it) needs to be slapped up the back of the head for writing something so incredibly stupid. It is one of, if not, the worst take on the link tax debate I have ever seen. It’s a bad take and the National Post author should feel bad for writing it.

(Via @MGeist)

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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