No Deal! Meta Turns Down Canadian Governments Offer to Water Down Bill C-18

The government watered down Bill C-18 to entice the platforms back. Meta has reportedly rejected the offer.

Pretty much everything the government has done, apart from passing the bill in the first place, has gone wrong up to this point. With Meta and Google announcing the blocking of news links, last ditch effort talks proving to be a failure, and Meta cancelling agreements with publishers, the government has been backed into a corner of their own making.

In the ensuing weeks, the government has been flailing and trying to come up with something to salvage the situation. After refusing to even consider a plan “B” in the event that the situation unfolds exactly as experts, including us, have predicted, the government was caught flat footed as they seemed to just be improvising. Those improvisation skills ended up leaving a lot to be desired. The US government rejected calls for help, badmouthing the platforms on international media went nowhere, an advertising boycott that failed on the same day it started, and comparing this fight to World War II which failed to resonate with Canadians. The colossal failure of the government on every front was very apparent.

Left with little other choice, and thanks to the entire media sector staring down the barrel of financial ruin, the government capitulated and watered down the new law in “clarifying” language. The timing of the move was poor as it happened after the bill became law. As a result, it suggested that the law was highly malleable, subject to change on a whim from the government. While this was, finally, a correct move on the part of the government, the move should’ve happened during the House of Commons legislating process, not after the fact when the bill became set in stone in law. This raised the risk on the part of business because if they signed on now, they have no way of knowing if the government would change their mind afterwards and walk back on some of that “clarifying” language later on.

Probably to the surprise of no one, Meta has reportedly declined the new language. From the Globe and Mail (probably paywalled):

Ottawa’s bid to bring tech giants Google and Meta onside through regulations to its Online News Act has failed to persuade Meta, which says it will press ahead with plans to block Canadians’ access to news on Facebook and Instagram.

But the social-media giant has yet to decide whether it will also block links to news on Threads, Meta’s freshly launched rival to Twitter.

The federal Heritage Department has not clarified whether allowing links to news on Threads would mean Meta would be subject to the Online News Act, which the social-media giant wants to avoid.

The situation feels like deja vu. Much like how Meta was the first to announce that it was moving ahead with news link blocking (with Google still not saying), Meta has made the first move in saying that the “clarify” language is not enough to bring them on board. This leaves Google to be the last to act on this effort. Once again, the fact that Meta has already seemingly decided means that there is a lot of additional pressure on Google to just follow suit afterwards. Yes, they have different services on offer, and yes, they are two different companies. At the same time, though, we’ve been here before already. History is already starting to repeat itself and the last time this happened was less than a whole month ago.

Now, you might have noticed the mention of Threads in the excerpt. Threads, of course, is a new platform by Meta. Meta itself is technically a company subject to this regulation, but the Threads platform is a big question mark. Indeed, media organizations scrambled to get an account on Threads, in part, to rebuke Elon Musk and his dumpster fire of a platform that is Twitter, but also probably in part because some companies think that Threads will take off based on who is behind it and on the possibility that Threads won’t be subject to the same news link blockages as Facebook and Instagram.

There’s reason to speculate on both ways that things could head. Those both ways being whether news links would get blocked on Threads or if Threads would get left alone.

Evidence supporting the news links block on Threads might be that Meta is really not wanting to continue to set a precedent with the Canadian link tax law. What’s more, Meta has been one of two companies targeted in the new law. The government is desperate to chisel money out of the platforms and they may be dumb enough to demand payments from Threads at some point. Further, the staunch supporters are still, in a suicidal move, calling for the government to hit the platforms hard for daring to not play ball like they wanted.

Evidence supporting the theory that says that Threads would get left alone might include the fact that Threads is not one of the largest websites on the entire internet right now. Technically, Meta can say that the platform is not subject to the Act thanks to the fact that it doesn’t have a big enough market share in the online space. What’s more, it would take additional time to implement such a blocking system on a brand new platform like Threads.

Ultimately, a decision could go either way. For the time being, neither side is saying which way this could go. The two sides still trying to figure it all out might be a factor in both sides not saying. If, however, the decision is made that news links would be blocked, those cute little moves by the large media companies to start sharing their content on those platforms (or, innocently join the platform and suddenly seeing the platforms “steal” their content after they posted those links totally by accident as some might try to reason) will turn out to be all for not, putting big publishing back to square one again.

At any rate, the situation is trending towards the government being put back into the position of watching the entire news sector get completely demolished because of unchecked greed and terrible lawmaking. A lot has happened in such a short period of time, but the only thing that has changed is the fact that the deadline to see news links get blocked has inched closer. One month down, five months to go.

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: