Traditional Media Refusing to Run Meta Ads to Prevent Explanations for News Links Blocks

Bias in the media is, again, at the centre of discussion after traditional outlets refused to allow ads paid for by Meta.

Mainstream media is once again at the centre of controversy in the Bill C-18 debate. They are refusing to run advertisements paid for by Meta explaining their side of the story. In and of itself, this wouldn’t be a huge controversy had it not been for previous actions taken by the mainstream media in the past. Adding this to the list, it has a lot of people asking how one can even trust the mainstream media when their own business interests could influence what is said.

Indeed, for the most part, coverage by the largest players in this debate has been absolutely atrocious. For years now, the large media companies have running coordinated mass disinformation campaigns being run as “news”. A more recent example is Big Lie 2.0 where the media falsely claimed that the large platforms are stopping people from reading the news outright. It was an obvious lie because what was really going on is that platforms were dropping support for hosting news links on their platforms. Canadians can still access the news by going to the websites or using apps or other third party services. Platforms simply do not possess the power to stop Canadians from viewing the news online outright. The media knew this, but chose to run these lies anyway.

Before the decision was made to drop news link support, the media was running a separate disinformation campaign saying that platforms are “stealing” news content from news outlets. This is something we dubbed Big Lie 1.0. The truth is that media companies were actively posting links to their news sites on their accounts on these platforms. This with the hope of driving traffic to their websites. The media companies knew this, but chose to run with these lies anyway. No evidence was ever produced saying that platforms were copying and pasting whole articles, slapping ads on it, and making off with the ad revenue afterwards.

Before that was the massive disinformation campaign where the media abused their ad networks to run a massive defamation campaign claiming that Mark Zuckerberg is “stealing” news articles. This was the notorious “Wanted Man” campaign which an example of this can be seen below:

Over top of that was the coordinated disinformation campaign known as the “disappearing headline” campaign of 2021 which claimed that the news will be disappearing tomorrow unless Big Tech companies “paid their fair share”.

The disinformation and defamation campaigns by the large mainstream media companies has been a pretty constant thing for years now. Whether it is coordinated campaigns in their newspapers, abuse of the ad networks, or running obvious propaganda as “news”, the large media companies have been very abusive with the power they do wield to advance their own self interest, sacrificing journalistic integrity in the process. In fact, debunking this disinformation has become something of a part time job for me for quite some time now.

Recently, however, Meta began running ads on their platforms explaining that support for news links is ending soon. The ad campaigns themselves are actually quite disciplined. They just explained that because of recent government legislation (ala the Online News Act), the sharing of news links will be ending because they want to comply with the new law.

Apparently, Meta attempted to run paid advertising on traditional media outlets presumably to offer these explanations as to why they are doing what they are doing. The actual content of the ads is not known at this time, but presumably, they would have been along the same lines as what was seen on Facebook. Unfortunately, we may never know for sure because, apparently, mainstream media has chosen to block these ads in protest of what Meta is doing. From the Globe and Mail (probably paywalled):

Meta has started to run ads to inform Canadians of its plan to block the viewing and sharing of news content on Facebook and Instagram within weeks, but some Quebec radio stations and news publications are refusing to carry them.

It’s the latest development in a tense standoff between Meta and the federal government and supporters of the Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18. The legislation is designed to support the Canadian news industry after much of its advertising migrated to big-tech platforms.

Meta says the ads are an attempt to be upfront with Canadians, who will find they can no longer share or access Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram within weeks.

“We want to remain clear and transparent with Canadians about the upcoming changes to our services,” said Lisa Laventure, Meta’s spokeswoman in Canada.

Cogeco, which owns a string of Quebec radio stations, said it is not carrying Meta’s advertisements.

“We have decided to refrain from using Meta’s advertising that takes a stand against the laws in Canada. However, we welcome Meta representatives to debate their points of view on our live broadcasts if they wish,” said Cogeco spokeswoman Diane Patenaude.

Véronique Mercier, vice-president of communications at Quebecor, said its media outlets would not carry the tech giant’s ads “in response to Meta’s action on C-18.” The Journal de Montreal has already blocked ads Meta tried to place.

One of the things I was told repeatedly in the news environment is that “there is always another side of the story”. Well, in this case, the media companies are intentionally blocking that “other side of the story” from their organizations. It’s clear that they don’t want the perspective of the platforms. Instead, they want one-sided biased “journalism” which is really just them stamping their feet and throwing temper tantrums all day because they were told “no” when they demanded a free ride. These hissy fits are the only thing that the large media companies want Canadians to hear and nothing else.

In all likelihood, the media companies are wanting, at minimum, a “rebuttal” to Meta. An ad campaign wouldn’t afford the companies that “rebuttal” so easily. So, the companies decided that this shall not stand.

Now, some will rightfully point out that this situation has a degree of complexity to it. Indeed, we are now talking about private companies and those companies picking and choosing what they want to air or what they want to print. Yes, that is their right. If they choose to turn down money and refuse to run certain advertising, they are well within their right to do so. The problem here is that in the context of running obvious lies in all forms for the better part of three years in these debates, this decision reflects very poorly on their business practices.

After all, these same news organizations have no problem constantly running ads of big oil companies running green washing campaigns. Ads for sketchy insurance companies or credit checking got plenty of air time. This isn’t even getting into the highly questionable “call now” product selling ads. Yet, when it comes to Meta running ads explaining their side of the story in this debate, that is where these companies draw the line? It’s extremely questionable business decision making.

All of this circles back to trust in the media. Do you trust that the media companies are just a neutral source of information? In this debate over the last three years, the evidence has been very conclusive that the answer is “no”. You might get one side of the story, sure, but as an institution and source of neutral information that people need to know? It’s very easy to see why a lot of people are trusting the media less and less thanks to the media’s own actions. The large media companies want their narrative and they’ll do anything to maintain that narrative.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, this really doesn’t alter things. Whether the large platforms are permitted to speak in certain venues or not, that switch is eventually getting pulled anyway. Whether it is with the large media companies continue to throw their temper tantrums and write angry articles being mad at platforms for not giving them free money or the media companies admitting that they just deep-sixed their entire industry, that switch is eventually getting pulled and the whole sector is about to lose their biggest source of growth they have. No amount of pettiness on this front is going to change things.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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