The Media Got High on Their Own Talking Point Supply – and We’re Witnessing the Crash

There’s a major risk of blindly believing your own talking points. We’re witnessing the media learn this lesson the hard way.

When you are an honest journalist, your writing tends to be a reflection of the events happening around you. Your job is to seek out the facts and understand the story, then break it down for audiences afterwards. Having knowledge in a given area is merely a bonus – a tool used to help you better understand the story. Perhaps one of the best practices a journalist can have is to be prepared to be surprised if something turns out differently then you were expecting. After all, part of your job is to keep an open mind about everything.

It is through that lens that we saw the large Canadian media fall flat on its face when it came to Bill C-11 (now the Online Streaming Act) and Bill C-18 (now the Online News Act). Basic journalistic integrity went straight out the window. Coverage was less about gathering the facts and presenting them in a neutral manner and more about pushing messaging. Ask anyone who is familiar with philosophy and critical thinking how bad it is to start with a conclusion and do everything to ensure all evidence points to it after and they’ll be more than happy to explain why this is a really bad idea. Yet, on a grand scale with the large Canadian media outlets, this is precisely what we have been witnessing in recent years. It really is astonishing how badly those outlets screwed up here.

Early signs that the large Canadian media outlets have abandoned basic journalistic principles date clear back to 2021 with the so-called “disappearing headline” campaign – a coordinated propaganda campaign spearheaded by News Media Canada that aimed at trying to convince Canadian’s that Canadian media is dying at the hands of the evil big tech platforms. As a result, without the government intervention of link taxes, news would practically cease to exist in Canada.

The campaign was an abandonment of basic journalistic principles on multiple levels. For example, it was a campaign aimed not at informing audiences of things that are going on, but rather, a messaging campaign aimed at trying to convince the Canadian audience of something. That is two very different things because the former is about informing the audience while the latter is essentially propaganda. On that principle, this campaign should never have left the drawing board, let alone become a national newspaper campaign. To make matters worse, it was based on wild misleading claims that all of news media is on the verge of death and only link taxes would save it. This isn’t even getting into the numerous other lies that were cropping up at the time. Pushing a propaganda campaign was bad enough, but doing so with such blatant lies was even worse.

To my frustration, this was only the beginning of things to come.

The lies kept coming in waves. A very common one was the lie that Bill C-18 is simply about making platforms pay for the use of their work. That disinformation was baked into seemingly every article, pushed to the opening paragraphs to ensure that people see this talking point over and over again.

This repeated lie got to be such a regular sighting that I had to devote an entire article to dismantling what would ultimately be Big Lie 1.0. Early on, I encapsulated the misleading statement from a CBC article which I’ll repost here:

Bill C-18 is designed to require web giants to compensate journalism publications for reposting their content.

At the time, there was also News Media Canada’s campaign which saw Mark Zuckerberg’s face appear in a “wanted” poster which you can see below:

It was all part of a much broader lie that platforms “steal” news articles from publishers (some actually went so far as to use the term “scrape”), repost them on their platforms, slap ads on them, and make off with the money afterwards. Everything about this is a straight up lie. The media companies never showed any evidence that this was going on.

More insultingly, it was plainly obvious that the media companies knew they were lying. When media companies are “boosting” posts on Facebook, they know how the system actually works. The media companies actually post links to their content to Facebook with the hopes that people will both see and click on those links. This drives traffic to their websites afterwards. This isn’t rocket science and is common knowledge for anyone who runs a news website. If you understand this, then you understand the value of paying Meta to “boost” your posts on Facebook. Such a post will see more eyeballs with the hopes of driving even more clicks to your website after.

Moreover, if the platforms were “stealing” news articles, there is a law already in place that permits the media companies to re-coup their financial losses. This is called the Copyright Act. If a party reposts whole articles without permission, and actively profits from it on a grand scale, then the media companies can very easily file a copyright infringement lawsuit against the platforms. If the media companies claims were true, then they would have gone this rout in a heartbeat because Canada has a thing called “statutory damages”. That’s how you see multi-million dollar awards handed out because such provisions in copyright law are there to act as a deterrent for others.

Yet, despite this, the media companies never chose to go this rout and, instead, chose to go through the long process of lobbying politicians to create a whole new (and very unnecessary) law instead. Why is that? The simple truth is that the media companies themselves are predominantly the ones who publish links to their news sites on platforms these days. They go through the long process of creating Facebook pages and implementing marketing strategies that work for them. They go through the process of submitting their sitemap to Google so that links to their articles appear in Google News.

Further to all of this, claims that the platforms are profiting handsomely in this exchange are dubious at best. Google News features no advertisements. Facebook depends little on news content to keep users on their platforms. At this point, all of this is just common sense stuff. Yet, the media companies needed to convince people that black is white, up is down, short is long, and platforms are wholly dependent on news content to keep their operations afloat.

Over top of the massive propaganda campaigns by the media companies, they went to the extreme of spiking editorials that dared to question the narratives they were pushing – even when those editorials are actually in favour of the legislation. Any contrary point of view was heavily frowned upon as media companies were almost entirely reluctant to air those ideas. The messaging – the conclusion – shall not be openly questioned in any significant way. That was the golden rule by the large media companies.

Luckily, we live in the internet era where people are free to create social media accounts or build whole websites and make such comments in the first place. Experts all around were all too happy to point out the numerous flaws with the approach of the link tax and why the talking points pushed by the media don’t withstand scrutiny. In fact, independent media, in a rebuttal to the talking point that everyone in the media sector is united on this front, pushed back against the link tax – even going so far as to launch a petition against the legislation (full disclosure, Freezenet signed this petition). A thought completely excised from the public memory of the large media companies.

Yet, throughout the public discourse, those that questioned the law were dismissed as little more than “Big Tech shills” or, ironically, people who peddle disinformation. Even we were accused of being on some big tech payroll at one point because we had the audacity to publish actual fact in this debate. This despite the fact that the people who are against this include highly respected academics and commentators. Trolls repeatedly attacked the people daring to ask the tough questions or point out the obvious as those who have somehow lost their way or mysteriously become deranged hardcore Conservative lunatics. This coupled with highly manipulated statistics as supporters of the legislation continued to try and convince everyone that platforms are wholly dependent on news links to keep their operations afloat.

Somewhere along the lines here, the media started believing their own lies. It’s really hard to pinpoint where, but it is easy to suspect that this was the earliest possible point that supporters of the bill, now law, started actually believing what they were saying. We are crossing from the point of coordinated propaganda campaigns to people who honestly believe the lies calling the shots.

Unsurprisingly, as the legislation drew closer to becoming law, both Meta and Google announced that they would be ending support for news links on their platforms. In response to this, the large media companies rolled out Big Lie 2.0.

In a nutshell, Big Lie 2.0 says that the platforms are blocking all access to Canadian news. Many in the large media companies said that they were being censored. It was a big pivot that the media didn’t expect, but honestly, it was entirely predictable (and was accurately predicted by many at the time). Obviously, the censorship claims were a lie because people can still access those website directly and through dedicated apps. The only thing that has changed here is the fact that news links to the large media sites will no longer be present on Google and Meta platforms.

A few in the media did, in fact, realize that they may have screwed up and admitted that things could go south for them. Most large media companies, however, scrambled for other talking points and rallied behind the idea that this was all a big bluff. This was built on the earlier false talking point that platforms depend solely on news content to stay alive. Many of the large media companies (with a few having second thoughts on this whole situation – no doubt basic survival instincts began taking over) rode that talking point all the way through the final senate hearings and straight through the final passage of the bill.

While many large media companies were clinging to those talking points, it was painfully evidence that the lies were already crashing down to the ground like an oversized house of cards. After Facebooks ad campaign warning users that this was going to happen, Meta rolled out their full news links blocking in Canada. Some in the sector early on in this proved to be talking point junkies as they screamed how this won’t last a week because that’s what happened in Australia (despite the situation being completely different here than Australia).

Unfortunately for the media companies still with a short straw in hand and a visibly crusty nose, reality was going to hit and hit hard. The talking point hits of platforms “stealing” their content just doesn’t have any kick any more. The talking point hits of the platforms merely “bluffing” on this whole situation were starting to wane (it’s been more than a week and Meta is still blocking news links). So, what’s a talking point addict supposed to do? Admit that they have a problem or double down? Faced with already being a publicity wreck, the answer, unfortunately, was to double down.

Seeking a talking point hit that would make all the problems leading up to that moment go away, the media took on the much more powerful talking point hit of a nation being 100% behind them. National unity, ohh, that’s the stuff. Yeah. Never mind the fact that the overall Canadian public was never really behind the media companies in the first place, the idea of an entire nation rallying behind the media companies proved to be potent enough to continue to get that high of self-importance. If it satisfies the ego, does anything else really matter?

Now wrapped into the next absurd level of delusion, the media companies pushed the talking point that blocking news links on platforms was really “unpopular”. What’s more, Canadians from all walks of life are all very angry that they don’t have access to news on the platforms any more. For the media players, this was a national crisis caused solely by the big meanies of Big Tech. Anyone who said otherwise were just shills working for Big Tech and could resoundingly be ignored because, well, they were obviously in the minority because… well, because all of Canada was behind the media companies. That’s it!

Of course, the media companies needed to add a little extra juice to the platform demonization. The Yellowknife evacuations ended up being the perfect opportunity to capitalize on these talking points. So, the media went to work saying that Meta was blocking news links in direct response to the Yellowknife evacuations. Obviously, this was never the case, but obviously, this was just Bit Tech shills talking. No one believes tech experts, right? Heck, the media companies are clearly smarter than those pesky “experts” in the first place, why even have experts in the first place when they clearly don’t know what they are talking about? Little did the media know that the talking point never actually stuck and people didn’t really care about this fight.

For the media, with the public already whipped up into a frenzy, it was time to finally pull the trigger. They were going to launch boycotts of Meta. Everyone was going to rally behind their cause because everyone was mad at Meta. Sure the advertiser boycott ended up failing spectacularly, but that’s not important right now! A boycott by the users is sure to work because it just makes sense that it would work. Just look at the talking points, you’ll see!

So, FRIENDS launched the second boycott, the first user boycott of Meta. When that boycott failed in spectacular fashion, it drew crickets from supporters of the legislation. Only a comment afterwards from FRIENDS thanking the “thousands” of people that supported their cause. Meta remained undeterred (for obvious reasons). It was very clear that this was not the national unity they were expecting.

What does the media lobby do? Well, do it all over again of course! Maybe the second round will be different! After snorting up a fresh line of crushed up media talking points, the media lobby launched a third boycott of Meta. Everyone will turn up for that! You’ll see! Well, we did see that people didn’t show up. In fact, during the big day, we saw all of four users turn out. So much for ‘journalists across the country’ banding together for the cause, let alone the users joining in. Unsurprisingly, with no one turning out to support the cause, the boycott ended in spectacular failure.

With a complaint to the Competition Bureau destined for failure, tainted with political interference for good measure, it was clear that the media lobby has become a twitching wreck. What traffic was derived from Meta platforms are gone. The traffic they get from Google (which is likely much more) is about to disappear as well. The audiences that sustained their business models were about to shrink significantly and, if the turnout to all the boycotts are any indication, the large media companies influence on the public is waning as well.

The reality in all of this is that the media lobby groups got high on their own talking point supply. They could’ve quit at any time. The sooner they quit pushing for the link tax, the less of an impact it would’ve had on them.

Had they saw reason and abandoned the link tax before it was passed into law, all they would’ve had to endure was some embarrassment. They didn’t because they got high.

They could’ve found compromise throughout the process which would’ve only caused people to point out how corrupt this whole system. They didn’t because they got high.

They could’ve kept the number of eligible news organizations to a couple dozen, yet chose to expand the number of eligible news organizations. It might have been annoying to see, but that was an option. That didn’t happen because they got high.

They could’ve simply relied on the existing deals and not pushed through a bad link tax law. They didn’t because they got high.

They could’ve simply not turned their own outlets to disinformation outlets. At least their news coverage would’ve kept their credibility that way. They didn’t do that because they got high.

They could’ve pushed for privacy reform, Competition Act reform, and ad tech regulations along with the link taxes so that people could’ve rallied behind the news publishers over regulating “Big Tech”. They didn’t because they got high.

They could’ve admitted defeat when the news links blocking happened. They could’ve found ways of reworking their business models so they didn’t have to resort to begging advertisers for dollars or begging users to bookmark their webpages and download their apps. They didn’t because they got high.

They could’ve realized that the public wasn’t behind them in their cause, saving themselves from the embarrassment of seeing almost no one show up to their boycotts. They didn’t, because they got high.

They can still call for the law to be rescinded so they can at least start picking up the pieces. So far, they haven’t, because they are high.

Now they are going to find themselves outside of huge parts of the digital revolution for the foreseeable future. Why? Because they got high. Because they got high. Because they got high.

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: