META to test blocking news content for Canadian users, raises concerns over online news bill
Tech giant Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is set to block the sharing and posting of news content for a select group of Canadians on its platforms. This move comes as part of Meta's testing strategy and could become permanent if the Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, is passed without changes. Meta is opposed to the bill, which aims to create a more balanced relationship between news outlets and digital platforms like Meta and Google, which dominate the digital advertising market.
The Online News Act would require digital giants to negotiate deals with Canadian media publishers for directing users to and sharing online news. Torstar, the owner of the Toronto Star, supports the bill and already has deals in place with Facebook and Instagram for news sharing.
Meta's decision follows a similar approach taken by Google earlier this year when it filtered out Canadian and international news content for some Canadian users. This action by tech companies has raised concerns from government officials. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called it "unacceptable" for tech companies to threaten the removal of services if their demands are not met.
The upcoming tests by Meta will be conducted over several weeks and will block one to five percent of randomly chosen Canadian Facebook and Instagram users from viewing, sharing, or posting specific news content. The total number of Canadians affected has not been disclosed, but Meta's apps, including Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, have approximately 24 million users in Canada.
Selected users will receive notifications when they attempt to share news content, informing them that they are unable to do so. The test will target specific news publishers, and affected news accounts will be chosen randomly based on criteria outlined in the Online News Act. This includes outlets that are recognized as "qualified Canadian journalism organizations" and produce news content of public interest, employing two or more journalists in Canada and operating within the country.
Rachel Curran, Meta Canada's head of public policy, explained that international news publishers with a presence in Canada could also be affected by the test. This means that content from outlets like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC may not be viewable or shareable by users in Canada during the test period.
Meta's opposition to the bill is rooted in its claim that news content represents less than three percent of what appears in users' feeds. The company argues that it drives significant traffic and revenue to news publishers, sending over a billion clicks to their websites annually.
As the bill enters its final stages of study, Meta has proposed several amendments that it hopes will be considered by senators and MPs. The company wants to ensure that it is adequately prepared in case Bill C-18 passes as currently drafted.
Members of the Senate committee reviewing the bill have expressed mixed reactions to Meta's actions. Some see it as uncomfortable timing, as the tests coincide with public hearings on the bill. Others view Meta's move as provocative in the ongoing conflict between the tech giant and the government. Critics of the bill, including Conservative politicians, argue that it could have negative consequences for media outlets and freedom of speech online.
The testing phase by Meta will provide insights into how the implementation of the Online News Act may affect Canadian users and news publishers. The outcome of these tests and the final decision on Bill C-18 will shape the future of news sharing and online content distribution in Canada.