Meta blocks 5% of Canadian users from accessing, posting news for one month

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called Meta's move 'disappointing' and says their tactics will not intimidate Canadians.

Meta blocks 5% of Canadian users from accessing, posting news for one month
Facebook/ Pablo Rodriguez
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Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has begun blocking Canadian users from accessing or posting news on its platforms until the end of June. The move comes amid Ottawa's looming passage of Bill C-18, the Online News Act.

The controversial bill is currently slated for debate in the Senate. If it passes, Facebook said it would begrudgingly block news content in Canada.

Meta called Bill C-18 a "fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers."

Nevertheless, between 1% and 5% of the 24 million Canadians with Facebook or Instagram will be included in the test that bans users from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada.

"Throughout the testing period, which will run for several weeks, a small percentage of people in Canada who are enrolled in testing will be notified if they attempt to share news content," said Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, adding users would be selected 'randomly.'

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called Meta's move "disappointing" and said their tactics would not intimidate Canadians.

According to Meta, the number of publishers included in the test will not be disclosed and is also randomized. They said those included in the test would receive a notification.

News publishers selected can still post news links and content during the duration of the test. Still, some of it will not be viewable in Canada.

"It won't necessarily be a uniform experience, " Curran continued. "Some news links won't be shareable on Facebook, but it might not be that experience on Instagram."

In February, Google blocked 3.3% of Canadian users from viewing news links for five weeks. It impacted more than 1.1 million IP addresses.

If Bill C-18 passes, Google and Meta must also pay for 35% of news expenditures for hundreds of media outlets, including the CBC, Bell, and Postmedia

However, The Globe and Mail expressed concerns over Bill C-18, claiming it gives the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) "open-ended powers" to compel news organizations to hand over information.

"The information-gathering powers of the CRTC should be limited to information necessary to confirm the eligibility of news organizations or to investigate a complaint," Globe publisher and chief executive Phillip Crawley told the Senate.

Crawley said Rodriguez assured him that snooping would not happen. However, the minister forwarded those concerns to the Senate, asking them to 'tighten the bill's language' to remove all doubt.

"The language as it stands would be, in my view, dangerous to the freedom of the media," said Crawley.

Most outlets have otherwise praised the bill over its commitment to "enhance fairness" in the industry and bolster their dwindling revenues. Taxpayers subsidize media annually at over $600 million — in addition to the $1.2 billion that comprises 70% of the state broadcaster's budget. 

Richard Gingras, Google's vice president for news, contends Bill C-18 would incentivize clickbait content over high-quality local journalism. "[It] threatens to create a situation where everybody loses," he said.

Google said it would prefer contributing to a media fund that aligns with government policy.

"If we must pay publishers simply for linking to their would be reasonable for us, or any business, to reconsider why we would continue to do so," added Gingras.

Last month, Curran told senators in a committee that Meta also objects to compensating publishers for their content. She claimed the more than 1.9 million news content clicks in Canada last year provided media with "free marketing worth more than $230 million in estimated value."

"We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that benefits them from a monetary perspective." 

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