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Meta won’t negotiate with publishers, will end Facebook news in Canada

Meta won’t negotiate with publishers, will end Facebook news in Canada

Yesterday’s news —

A small percentage of Canadian Facebook users is already losing access to news.

Yesterday, Canada passed its Online News Act, which requires tech companies to negotiate content deals with news publishers and pay news outlets for links shared on their platforms. As Meta threatened back in March, it promptly announced yesterday that it will be quickly ending news access on Facebook and Instagram in response to the law, Reuters reported.

“Today, we are confirming that news availability will be ended on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada prior to the Online News Act taking effect,” Meta’s statement said.

According to The New York Times, it’s still unclear when Canada’s law will take effect, but Meta’s statement makes it sound like Meta plans to cut off news as quickly as it can. Meta claims that news has no value to either the tech giant or to users who do not go to Facebook and Instagram to consume news.

That claim doesn’t match up with what surveys say about news consumption on Meta platforms, though.

In 2021, Pew Research Center reported results of a US survey finding that “when it comes to where Americans regularly get news on social media, Facebook outpaces all other social media sites.” For Canadians in 2022, Facebook was still the most popular social media platform for weekly news, according to Statista, which ran a survey finding that 21 percent of Canadians check Facebook for news weekly. That survey did record a drop in popularity for Instagram as a news source among Canadians, although Instagram still slightly outpaced Twitter as a weekly news source.

A Meta spokesperson linked Ars to an updated blog with some details on what Facebook and Instagram users can expect moving forward.

“Content from news outlets, including news publishers and broadcasters, will no longer be available to people accessing our platforms in Canada,” the blog said.

Currently, Meta is conducting ongoing “product tests to help us build an effective product solution to end news availability.” A “small percentage” of Canadian users on Instagram and Facebook are being impacted by these product tests and losing access to news already.

While Meta works to end news access for all Canadian users, the company has said that Facebook and Instagram will otherwise be unchanged. It also notes that Meta plans to continue building its global fact-checking network to combat misinformation on its platforms.

“Fact-checking will continue with respect to content that remains available in Canada,” Meta’s blog said.

The decision to drop news from Meta platforms was expected, as Meta spokespersons had made it clear for months that Canada’s law compelling platforms to pay for links to news content was “neither sustainable nor workable.”

Canada passed the law to require online ad revenue-sharing between news publishers and platforms and help reverse a decade-long collapse in news publisher revenue. In March, Meta estimated that links to news articles make up less than 3 percent of news feeds on its platforms and claimed it was an insignificant revenue source.

Meta isn’t the only one unhappy with Canada’s law, which yesterday received royal assent from Canada’s governor-general and will soon take effect. A Google spokesperson told Reuters that the law is still “unworkable” and that Google still hopes to find an alternative “path forward.”

Google did not immediately respond to Ars’ request to comment. [Update: Google’s spokesperson, Jenn Crider, told Ars that none of Google’s concerns have been addressed. She said that because the law “remains unworkable,” Google is “urgently” seeking to work with the Canadian government to “avoid an outcome that no one wants”—which Google previously described as “existing support to Canadian news publishers” slowing down or stopping “while Google and others seek the clarity.”

Crider said that Google has “proposed thoughtful and pragmatic solutions that would have improved” the law (described here) and “cleared the path” for Google to increase its “already significant investments in the Canadian news ecosystem.”]

Canada Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who introduced the Online News Act, said yesterday that there will be an implementation process before the law takes effect, Reuters reported. Rodriguez celebrated the law-passing by championing lawmakers in a statement, saying, “If the government can’t stand up for Canadians against tech giants, who will?”

Canada’s law was modeled after an Australian law passed in 2021 that requires companies like Meta and Google to negotiate deals with news publishers to link to content. When that Australia law passed, Meta similarly protested by ending news access before reaching an agreement, securing amendments to Australia’s law and striking content deals with several news publishers. It’s possible that Meta still has an opportunity to provide feedback on Canada’s law and reach a similar agreement there.

Both Meta and Google have met with the Canadian government this week, and a government spokesperson said that Canada looks forward to having more talks with tech companies, Reuters reported.

In a news release, the Canadian government said that draft regulations will next be published in the Canada Gazette, specifying how the law should be applied and providing guidance on exemptions.

“Everyone will have an opportunity to consult and provide feedback through this Canada Gazette process,” the news release said.

From there, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will oversee “bargaining, negotiation and external final-offer arbitration processes between platforms and news businesses.” The commission will also create a code of conduct to ensure fairness and transparency in bargaining.

“A free and independent press is fundamental to our democracy,” Rodriguez is quoted saying in the news release. “Thanks to the Online News Act, newsrooms across the country will now be able to negotiate fairly for compensation when their work appears on the biggest digital platforms. It levels the playing field by putting the power of big tech in check and ensuring that even our smallest news business can benefit through this regime and receive fair compensation for their work.”

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