VictoriaBuzz Publishes Online News Act Disinformation. Why Can’t the Media Stop Lying About it?

If you thought the media would have few reasons to lie about the Online News Act after it passed, you would be mistaken.

For the last few years, the Canadian mainstream media has been repeatedly lying about the Online News Act. Whether it was Big Lie 1.0 where the media falsely accused platforms of “stealing” or “scraping” news articles from publishers and making ad revenue off of it or Big Lie 2.0 where the media falsely claimed that platforms blocking news links is censorship, the waves of lies has been relentless. The media, of course, knows better than this. They know the value of sharing news links on these platforms given their long history of taking out advertising on these platforms. So, this is not a case of ignorance about how technology works, but rather, blatantly lying to the public about this in the name of financial self-interest.

The obvious lies have contributed to the growing distrust in the media as well. Whether it is because some members are willing to attack 13 year olds for major achievements in video games or railing against platforms because some of its users are generating interest in the news for younger audiences, there’s been a long-running slide in journalism quality where basic journalistic integrity is thrown out the window and replaced with settling personal or corporate scores against perceived enemies of the media.

Still, with the Online News Act receiving royal assent and the Canadian government folding to Google, you’d think that the debate is over. After all, Meta, the only other entity expected to make ransom payments in all of this, dropped news links last year. One journalist last month responded by saying that publishers didn’t need Meta anyway, so nothing of value was lost to the world of journalism anyway. So, debate over, right?

VictoriaBuzz Disinformation

Well, it turns out that others in the media are still throwing temper tantrums and spewing lies in all of this. Recently, VictoriaBuzz published a barrage of disinformation, seemingly in an effort to try and get Meta to pay the ransom payments. Yeah, here we go again. The article is chock full of disproven talking points, laughably inaccurate statements, and outright revisionist history in their obviously anger fuelled rant against Meta. The article doesn’t waste any time with their false claims as towards the beginning of the article, we saw this:

Bill C-18, otherwise known as the Online News Act was in the works for years, given royal assent in June and finally came into effect on December 19th, and Meta has refused to participate constructively in its implementation throughout this time.

This assertion is, of course, false. In the years leading up to the bill receiving royal assent, Facebook had long warned that passing Bill C-18 would mean that Facebook would have no choice but to drop news links. The large media companies and the government refused to heed those warnings and, instead, opted to call these warnings a “bluff”. As you know now, it wasn’t a “bluff”, but an actual warning.

Meta has also participated in various hearings including the senate hearings. In those hearings, Meta explained that the legislation is unworkable. The company explained how things work in the real world, how their business operations work, the real value of news links, how publishers benefit far more than the platforms, and why they would be forced to drop news links unless significant changes to the bill aren’t made. Politicians, including some senators, opted to conclude that Meta couldn’t be believed and foolishly decided to believe the lie that platforms make their fortunes solely off of news links and nothing else. The mistake, in those circumstances, was that politician’s didn’t heed those warnings and Meta, who was very upfront about how they were going to respond, followed through and blocked news links.

If anyone was not constructive in this whole debate, it would be the government. Everything about this situation was avoidable, yet despite expert witnesses and actual independent media like us warning the government of the consequences of their actions, the government proceeded to ignore all the evidence and believe in all the false talking points and proceed the way they have. In the end, it’s the government that is at fault for creating this mess in the first place. Meta was consistent throughout the entire process and continues to be consistent to this day about their position.

The article then, surprisingly, decides to regurgitate Big Lie 1.0:

The point of the Online News Act was to help support the struggling journalism sector across the country by having these billion dollar-generating companies contribute an objectively small amount towards the journalists and news organizations where their news is coming from.

This is because a significant part of their fortunes stems from Canadians using their platforms as a way to find local, provincial, national and international news that they are interested in.

Everything about this is a lie. There is no evidence that “significant part of their fortunes” is the result of news links being shared on their platforms. It has been proven time and again that the reason people use platforms like Facebook as a means of communication and sharing meme pictures. This was the result of the mountains of evidence leading up to the blocking of news links. Of course, after the news links block, this point was further cemented in fact when Facebook’s traffic remained unchanged following the dropping of news links. This while user engagement to media pages on Facebook collapsed. So, if the evidence wasn’t enough before the news link blocking, the ultimate results should seal the deal. Facebook doesn’t, and never has, relied on news links to sustain their business model. This is not theory, this is reality.

VictoriaBuzz then engaged in some revisionist history:

They predicted the passing of the Online News Act was inevitable and have since agreed to contribute $100 million per year, indexed to inflation, which will be evenly distributed based upon how many journalists work for an outlet.

Except that this is not what happened. The Online News Act received Royal Assent in June of last year. Then, in November of last year, the Canadian government folded, conceding virtually every point they were trying to achieve, and, instead, caved to Google’s push to have a fund model that they originally asked for. The Canadian government was pushing for individual deals being reached between the platform and the publishers. This along with the idea of payments of linking. The government got none of that and, in an effort to save face and stop the collapse of the news sector, gave in to Google’s position to avoid being known as the government that killed the news sector. About the only thing VictoriaBuzz got right here was that Google agreed to pay $100 million, indexed to inflation. Everything else was obvious revisionist history.

The article then goes on to say this:

According to the Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Meta has refused to cooperate from the get-go and has acted out of spite against Canadian news and its people ever since.

“Facebook continues to make an unfortunate and reckless choice to block news on their platforms,” said Pascal St-Onge, Minister of Canadian Heritage.

This is the VictoriaBuzz taking the governments position at face value without questioning what they are saying. In other words, the VictoriaBuzz decided not to do their job here. The government is not being honest when they make these remarks. As we explained above, Meta was being straight with the government this entire time. If the government implements its link tax law without significant revision, then Meta will drop news links on their platforms. The government opted to believe their lobbyist pals and conclude that this was a lie and pass the legislation largely as-is. Meta then dropped news links. After that, the media and the government threw endless temper tantrums that they didn’t get their way. That’s the honest truth in the situation.

VictoriaBuzz then proceeded to lie again by writing this:

This is something Meta implemented five months before the Online News Act would be enforced in an attempt to strong-arm the Canadian government into repealing the legislation.

It should really go without saying why this is disinformation. Meta dropped news links because the media companies were crazy enough to demand payments for the privilege of hosting news links. Think about it this way: say you operate a business and decided to open up a free bulletin board out in front. Anyone can advertise anything free of charge. The businesses in the area, in response, post their advertisements up on this bulletin board and see a whole bunch of new customers coming to them.

One day, the businesses decide to collude and demand that your business should be paying them for the privilege of playing host to that free bulletin board, claiming that the only reason your business is successful is because of that bulletin board. This despite the obvious fact that your business is generating revenue for countless reasons that go beyond that free bulletin board. How would you respond to this? The answer is obvious: take down the bulletin board and let the businesses go it alone. Honestly, this is the exact same situation Meta found itself here. So, dropping news links was the obvious choice. There’s nothing strong-armed about the move when the business decision was obvious. This is simply the media outlets flipping out that their actions have consequences.

VictoriaBuzz then went on to say this:

“Facebook is leaving disinformation and misinformation to spread on their platform, while choosing to block access to reliable, high-quality, independent journalism,” St-Onge continued.

“I invite Canadians to go directly to local news outlets and support Canadian journalists.”

Specifically, Meta’s blocking of Canadian news became extremely dangerous through the summer when BC was dealing with an unprecedented and record breaking wildfire season which saw over 40,000 British Columbians on evacuation order or alert at its peak.

During this time, misinformation about evacuations spread as quickly as the wildfires and many were left not knowing what they should be doing for their own safety.

This is the media outlet, once again, engaging in revisionist history. In August, Yellowknife experienced wildfires that caused unprecedented evacuations. This while BC was experiencing their own massive wildfire season. The Canadian government, in response, took advantage of the situation that did see fatalities and used the situation to score political points. They falsely claimed at the time that Meta dropped news links in response to the wildfires even though, as we pointed out at the time, the blocking happened long before the wildfires were gripping large regions of the country.

Despite the deaths, injuries, and displacements, however, the large media companies and the government continued to use the situation to score cheap political points. It was shameful actions then and continues to be shameful actions today. Simply put, what the government and the large media companies did was despicable. What’s more, the lies that were spewed on those days didn’t end up swaying the debate in the end.

VictoriaBuzz’s assertion, which blindly agrees with the governments position, that the blocking of news links on Facebook represented a uniquely dangerous situation here was backed up by no evidence whatsoever (gee, I wonder why?). What’s more, as was pointed out numerous times already, government and first responders could still publish warnings and evacuation notices without incident on Facebook during that time. If you are truly bent on relying exclusively on Facebook to communicate emergency information, then those messages did, in fact, get out.

This doesn’t even get in to the absolutely ludicrous idea that we should be relying solely on Facebook to handle emergency response messages in the first place (and who in their right mind said this was a good idea in the first place?). There’s countless alert systems such as the ones through people’s cell phones, through publicly available radio, through television broadcasts, and through other sources as well. The very premise of relying on Facebook to handle this is completely insane, yet the article’s author somehow magically decided that this is how things work now… somehow.

VictoriaBuzz went even further off the deep end with this:

As a way of protesting Meta’s blocking of Canadian Journalism, the Canadian government, most provincial governments, many municipalities and hundreds of influential companies such as BC Hydro have stopped spending their advertising budgets with Meta.

OK, first of all, this is not Meta “protesting”. This is how Meta decided to comply with the Act. Platforms who were affected by the Act ultimately had two choices to comply with the legislation: either pay publishers millions or drop news links altogether. Both options comply with the Act. Meta chose the latter option to comply with the Act – by dropping news links that the publishers claimed was an act of “stealing”. As government officials like Thomas Own Ripley plainly explained, exiting the “news market” by dropping news links means that payments are no longer required. Those comments ended and uncertainty on that part of the debate all the way back to April of last year.

Second of all, the Canadian government was the one that did the most “damage” by suspending their advertising campaign to the tune of $10 million. This amounted to less than one hour of revenue for Meta. Other companies that joined in this so-called “boycott” struggled to crack 1 second of revenue when they pulled their advertising campaigns. When I followed these reports, I was all too happy to showcase Meta’s likely quiet response to this which is what Jeremy Clarkson’s response was in this clip:

By all objective accounts, the advertiser boycott failed spectacularly especially given that Meta has obviously not changed course in all of this.

Of course, these facts didn’t get in the way of VictoriaBuzz as they continued with this:

This will cost Meta many millions of dollars as they still refuse to comply withthe Online News Act.

Except that Meta is complying with the Online News Act by dropping news links. End of story on that one.

The VictoriaBuzz continued their obviously incorrect anger fuelled rant with this:

If and when Meta decides it is in their best interest to comply with the Online News Act or face repercussions and a lengthy, expensive arbitration process, they will have to go to the CRTC.

However, there is no telling what Meta will do as they still refuse they are saying that the Online News Act should not apply to them.

The question here is: “what repercussions?” The simple answer here is that there is no repercussions for Meta because, again, dropping news links is a means to comply with the Online News Act. There is nothing in the Online News Act that says that if a platform drops news links, they they would be subject to fines or sanctions of any kind. The author of this article could’ve cited the specific section they are thinking of when making these assertions, but chose not to. Why? Because such provisions don’t exist in the Online News Act. The journalist here is wrong again (not that this is anything new, mainstream journalists have been wrong all the time in this debate).

What’s more, it is very easy to tell what Meta is going to do: continue to block news links. There is no reason for Meta to change course here. To believe otherwise is to be relying on a completely unexpected miracle of some sort. If Meta were to cave and start negotiations with the publishers exactly how this publisher seems to be wishing for, then the mainstream media journalists should go out and buy lottery tickets because the odds of that happening are that slim.

The “article” then goes on to say this:

As another concerning wildfire season fast-approaches, those who advocate for the Online News Act have many concerns over safety and the spread of misinformation.

This is probably the only informative thing in this entire article. This suggests that advocates are planning on playing politics and trying to score cheap political points over a situation that could result in fatalities. So, they are apparently going to continue to be amoral on top of it all in their unethical quest to steal money.

In conclusion, everything about this article is complete junk. It’s virtually fact free as they engage in revisionist history, lies, and misleading talking points. The author should be ashamed of himself for writing such nonsense. He proved here that he is just as bad as the very people who he claims spread misinformation on social media because, well, that’s exactly what he is doing here. If VictoriaBuzz had any sense of self worth, they would immediately retract this garbage “article”. As long as they leave this nonsense up, they admit that they are not in the interest of publishing news of any kind. Unfortunately, given how unethical the mainstream media has been in handling this debate, it would come as no surprise that they would be proud of their blatant lies instead, so I’m not holding out any hope whatsoever.

A Possibility on Why the Mainstream Media is Continuing to Lie About the Online News Act

So, we thoroughly debunked the VictoriaBuzz misinformation, but the question might be this: why continue to lie about the Online News Act?

Well, we’ve been paying attention to some of the chatter among the supporters of the failed Online News Act. Around the time the government caved to Google and got the $100 million fund model set up, some supporters started publishing conspiracy theories on their blogs. Those conspiracy theories suggest that because Google got their fund model, Meta would immediately become jealous and immediately come crawling back to the government to work out a similar deal. This was based off of the nonsense that Meta was somehow hurting badly because they dropped news links in Canada (narrator: Meta wasn’t hurting at all because of the dropping of news links). Some of these talking points seeped out into the open late last year, but it wasn’t the only source speculating heavily on this.

As it turns out, the supporters of the legislation were disappointed when they didn’t hear news of Meta running to the government to work out a deal before the end of the year, proving critics like us right once again. Some were probably hoping that when the new year rolled around that they would come crawling back to the government to work out a deal. For reasons that should be painfully obvious, that didn’t happen. So, what we’re seeing is growing frustration that this conspiracy theory didn’t pan out. In the heat of growing impatient, the big media companies are starting to trot out these obviously bad talking points to vent their frustration that the massive financial windfall didn’t come to be. Chances are, others are going to follow suit as they air their public whining about the consequences of their actions.

The idea that Meta would somehow be fined under the Online News Act for not paying these ransom payments are completely ridiculous. All it’s going to lead is more frustration and disappointment when the big media companies learn that there’s nothing neither the CRTC nor the Canadian government can do about this. Seriously, what fines or sanctions are available? What law are you going to use to penalize Meta for not paying the ransom payments. Explain what provisions the government are going to use to levy these penalties. You have every law in the book to use, so if you are convinced that the CRTC can penalize Meta, explain how they could theoretically do so.

I will say right here, right now, that as of today, there is no path the CRTC can take to exact whatever revenge the large media companies were hoping to exact on Meta. It doesn’t exist. What’s more, even if there was somehow a path forward somewhere in the law books, Meta has the ultimate trump card of blocking Canada entirely. If you think things were bad before, just imagine how bad things would be if Meta pushed the nuclear option on the situation. If they did pull that lever, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least under this extremely unlikely set of circumstances.

The only thing I can think of moving forward that could possibly get us to that point is if the Canadian government pushes and passes a new law saying that Meta is banned from simply blocking news links. It would be both suicidal and unconstitutional on the part of the government, but that is the most likely way forward to getting Meta to exit Canada altogether within the bounds of this debate.

So, the media companies are mad about this, in part, because their feverish dreams of a Meta crawling back to the government didn’t pan out. Why be so worked up about this in the first place? Well, as Meta explained in their senate hearing, news links for the publishers represented $230 million in estimated value. This is a hit that the publishers have no hope in recovering through the $100 million Google fund model. They are money behind in all of this by a significant margin. If you get $100 out of Google on average, you lost $230 from Meta on average. This is an average of $130 in losses. Kind of a disappointing turn of events when you were banking on this being a source of free money.

With the Online Streaming Act increasingly looking like a bust, the hopes of recouping those losses are fading fast. That’s probably why the media companies are furiously writing hit pieces on Meta for complying with the law. They want their free money and they want it now (cue JG Wentworth images). So, in all likelihood, the Canadian media might fire up their defamation campaign moving forward. As the VictoriaBuzz has proven, this has seemingly already started.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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