No Canadian Media and Justin Trudeau, Google is Not Blocking Access to News. Just Links

Big Media’s Big Lie is now being replaced by Big Media’s Big Lie 2.0 by saying that Canadians are being blocked from news.

The disinformation pumped out by big media outlets have kicked into overdrive.

In earlier parts of the debate, Big Media and Bill C-18 supporters were pushing the original Big Media Big Lie. That is that platforms are taking whole articles, reposting them on their platforms, slapping ads over top of it, and stealing the revenue afterwards without properly compensating the journalism outlets after. In response, we completely dismantled these lies and disproved that services like Google News are placing ads next to news links and profiting off of it after.

Indeed, I was under no illusion that debunking the media’s lies would stop them from lying about what is really going on here. However, I felt it was important to educate the public on the truth of what is really happening and show that not every journalist out there is so blatantly crooked and corrupt. What is particularly frustrating in all of this is that the media outlets know full well that they aren’t being truthful. This is their industry. They know how links and snippets are shared. This isn’t like the file-sharing debates of the 2000’s where the media could theoretically claim ignorance on the issues.

In fact, these last few months have started making me question whether or not calling myself a journalist is really doing me any favours anymore. After all, I wanted to show the good side of journalism. Journalists can know their selected subject well. They can actually publish the truth instead of lazily relying on “both sides are bad” or “hear both sides of the debate” tropes when there is obvious lies in such debates. Non-partisanship can be a good thing. What’s more, I wanted to show that a journalist can actually dig into the truth of things and be accountable. Now, I wonder if this effort is even worth it. Maybe I should just let the term “journalist” get completely tarnished, though I wonder what I should call myself after.

Either way, that isn’t going to stop the quest to be a proper fact checking and reporting source. These days, we have our hands full – overwhelmingly so. Indeed, part of the lies Bill C-18 supporters push is that platforms are “stealing” news articles. One example comes from Liberal MP, Lisa Hepfner who had this to say last year:

gov’t will always support quality, fact-based and local Canadian journalism in a fair digital marketplace. This bill makes it harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit on one of their networks 3/3

This was always a lie. Platforms were never “stealing” news content. They were allowing news sources to post links on their platforms for added traffic to their sites. It actually requires action on the news sources part to appear on such platforms in the first place.

The thing is, if you ever wanted a test to see how truthful comments like that are, then that ultimate test came when Google was, well, testing the blocking of news links for 4% of Canadian’s. If the logic followed through for Bill C-18 supporters, they should have been elated that Google is now in the testing phase of no longer “stealing” news articles. As you know, though, the “stealing” or “republishing” of news content line was a lie and that lie completely collapsed in the face of this move.

The reason the lie collapsed was, in part, Google testing the blocking of news links, but also the reaction Google got. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth among Bill C-18 supporters. They basically called Google outrageous for having the audacity of… not doing exactly what they there complaining about – “republishing” news articles.

The truth has always been that publishers need platforms more than platforms need publishers. That simple fact shone through in light of that reaction from publishers because they know that seeing their traffic coming from Facebook and Google suddenly get cut off is going to severely hurt their website operations. Publishers heavily depend on those platforms to get them those much needed eyeballs.

So, now, Bill C-18 supporters have run into a problem. You can’t complain that Google is “republishing news” when they are actively testing a method that explicitly removes their “content” (actually, links). So, with the Big Media Big Lie falling apart, there needed to be a new Big Lie. Call it, Big Media Big Lie 2.0. That new big lie is that Google is actively stopping Canadians from reading the news online. Here’s just a sample of the headlines out there:

Why Google is blocking some Canadians from seeing online news

Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians in response to Bill C-18

Google tests blocking news content for some Canadians in response to government bill

How far will some media outlets go to push the lie that Google is stopping users from reading the news? One went so far as to publish a fake guide on this. This came from CTV:

Google has temporarily blocked some Canadian users from viewing news content.

Google says less than four per cent of its Canadian users are affected by the test – not an insignificant number, considering Google’s search engine enjoys an approximately 90 per cent market share in the country.

To find out if you’re one of them, simply open the Google search engine, type in a Canadian-themed word like “Trudeau” or “Ottawa” and then click on Google’s “News” tab. If you see stories by Canadian media outlets like CTV News, your account is probably not affected. If you’re mostly seeing news sources from the U.S. and elsewhere, you’re likely among the four per cent.

What all of this has in common is the fact that it is all a lie. If you are one of the 4% affected by the blocking links (what is actually happening), you can still view the news. Google does not have the power to stop you from visiting any Canadian news site. To use the CTV example, all you have to do is go to your address bar, then type in “” and hit enter. Viola! Barring local network difficulties, the page will load. It doesn’t matter if you are part of the 4% affected, the page will still load.

So, what is really going on here? Well, the media is trying to play to users who think Google is the internet. It most assuredly is not the internet. So, the media is taking advantage of that ignorance and trying to convince people that they are being stopped by Google from viewing the news. Once again, the media knows better. They know their business and they know that everyone can still access their news sites even if Google blocks all URLs on their site for all Canadians. The media using this audience manipulation is truly a massive and outrageous scandal. What’s more, it completely blows up their credibility in the process.

So, what’s the Google test really doing? Simply put, they are blocking news links from their Google News service. The media is demanding payments for the use of news links and Google is testing the response of just not allowing news links from Canada enter or be displayed on their Google News service. Google just not linking to Canadian news sources is not just a business decision in response to demands that such activities require payment, but it is probably the best decision they could make in this situation.

After all, Google failed to take a stand in Australia and, as everyone predicted, history is repeating itself in Canada. They most likely thought that they could solidify their market power in the search sector by making it impossible for other search engines to compete. This with the hope that observers would be wrong and that history wouldn’t repeat itself.

The problem is, those observers were 100% correct and history is repeating here. How much money is Google willing to throw away here? If they want to keep throwing money away, then they would just go along with this. If they want to stop the bleeding in this angle, then they can put their foot down here and now. That is Google’s true choice in all of this. As history has shown, going along with this scheme here means this will repeat in another country later and Google would solve nothing (unless if Google doesn’t like having money in the first place, then that would be different – if suicidal).

Of course, the media isn’t the only one pushing the narrative that Google is stopping Canadians from accessing news. In fact, Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, stepped into this debate completely unprompted.

“It really surprises me that Google has decided that they would rather prevent Canadians from accessing news than actually paying journalists for the work they do. I think that’s a terrible mistake and I know that Canadians expect journalists to be well paid for the work they do.”

University law professor, Michael Geist, refuted those comments for very understandable reasons:

First, there are obviously a range of perspectives on Google’s actions. In my view, greater transparency is needed when search results are intentionally removed, but I support the underlying principle of opposing mandated payments for links and indexing, which represents an enormous threat to the free flow of information online. However, regardless of your view, it cannot reasonably be said that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news. Google does not have the power to prevent anyone from accessing third party websites since the removal of links from search results does not remove or block the site itself nor prevent anyone from accessing it directly. Words matter. It is not just misleading to claim that Google is preventing Canadians from accessing news, it is dangerous. There are many countries that engage in content blocking or other measures to actually prevent access and the Prime Minister should not be conflating removal of search results with website blocking.

Second, Trudeau’s claim that Bill C-18 about payments to journalists isn’t well reflected in the bill itself. As a result of amendments at the Canadian Heritage committee, the definition of eligible news businesses was expanded to include hundreds of community, campus or indigenous broadcasters licensed by the CRTC. Unlike the standards established under the Income Tax Act which govern Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations (QCJO) and which feature multiple criteria to ensure that only organizations producing journalism are covered, Bill C-18 applies to broadcasters that may not face any requirements to produce news. In other words, the bill would require payments to hundreds of broadcasters without any actual journalism or original news content. That isn’t funding journalism or journalists. It is creating a subsidy program that only requires a CRTC-issued licence.

Third, Bill C-18 is not about payment for the reproduction of journalists’ work. It is about payment for links, indexing and any other mechanism that is seen to “facilitate access” to news. I’ve identified many concerns with the bill (including press independence concerns, potential violations of Canada’s international copyright obligations, harm to the competitiveness of independent media, and the prospect of trade retaliation by the United States), but none are more important than the harm to freedom of expression and the free flow of information online that arise from mandated payments for links.

Indeed, it isn’t, and never was, Google’s job to pay the salaries of journalists in the first place. That duty falls on the companies that hired them. What’s more, news organizations do not have the right to reach any more than far right extremists have a right to reach. Having your links displayed on Google News is a privilege, not a right. The fact of the matter is that publishers got greedy and demanded payments for that privilege. The very thought that Google could say “no” only served to show that Bill C-18 critics were right all along thanks to the reaction by Trudeau and the media.

Probably the only real question is, who first started pushing this new lie about blocking access to news content: was it the media or Trudeau? My money is on the media, but I’m not entirely sure on that. Either way, this coordinated effort to try and push blatant lies onto the public is exasperating. It also makes a strong case that Canadian’s should not believe anything the large media outlets say about Bill C-18. The media should be ashamed of themselves for what they have done.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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