It takes a lot for me to both get angry and publish about it.
Canada’s Online News Act (aka Bill C-18) has sent me down the social media rabbit hole battling journalists, credible thought leaders, friends, and trolls.
What’s the saying? “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
For context on the law and what’s been happening, here’s my initial take: Clickbait And Switch — Canada’s Big Tech Showdown.
But, as usual, Michael Geist (Canadian academic, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa and a member of the Centre for Law, Technology and Society) really nails the entire issue right here: The Bill C-18 Regulation Fake-Out: Setting the Record Straight on When Bill C-18 Takes Effect and the Regulation Making Process.
Before digging into what’s pissing me off, let me make some larger points that are not up for debate in my frustration, but need to be addressed as well (as separate issues from Bill C-18):
- I am not a Facebook or social media apologist. For all of the great things this technology has added to the world, there are an equal amount of bad things… really bad things (this includes content moderation).
- Meta/Facebook/Instagram and many of the other social media platforms must deal with their user’s data. How it is managed, used, and sold.
- I believe in good government. I do not take sides based on my political leanings (in fact, I often find myself really challenged to choose a political party over a specific politician).
- I believe, deeply, in the power of journalism, journalists and their importance to our community and democracy. My professional career started in journalism/publishing/media long before there was a commercialized Internet.
- I will always fight for and support local news/media, and for its independence and importance.
- Social Media platforms have a big challenge when it comes to compensating creators. Those creators can be big media companies, people, me or influencers. Whether or not creators should be compensated directly from these platforms or via the advertising, sales, etc. that happens from that content is not something I have fully reconciled. I create a ton of content “for free” because I see it as a promotional tool that leads to other opportunities (for me, that would be sales on ThinkersOne, speaking opportunities, investment opportunities, more media appearances, etc.).
So, what grinds my gears about everything that is going on?
- News outlets are claiming that they are the trusted news sources that people turn to, and having their news blocked on Meta/Facebook is an erosion of democracy. The news is not being blocked. The media companies are saying they are trusted sources of truth, but countless articles are either mis-representing the law, or simply lying/trying to scare their customers into believing that they are the victims here.
- The entire business model of media and advertising is the exact opposite of what this law represents. The example I have been using is this: You sell cars. I refer someone to you as a customer. You then turn around and want me to pay you for bringing in the customer. No, it’s the other way around (see: affiliate marketing). Always. These media companies should be thrilled that so many citizens are creating, commenting and sharing their news links on Facebook and driving more attention, traffic, advertising revenue and subscriptions to their websites. With that, yes, Facebook does benefit from these links and engagement on their platform. This can be true while they’re also sending traffic, advertising and more revenue to other websites.
- Journalists are now posting screenshots or copy & paste versions of their work. This will only weaken their individual, personal brands, and ultimately hurt their ability for their content to reach a broader audience. As usual, it’s the journalists who will, ultimately, suffer the most from the government’s new law.
- People are confusing links and repurposed content with news being blocked/removed. Sharing a link or teasing out an article then including a link to another website are not the same thing. The news is not being blocked. It’s readily available on the media company’s website and other social media platforms and websites, you simply can’t link to it or share it on Facebook. So, you can discuss and debate any news item or share emergency information, you simply cannot link to a news website about it.
- News, sadly, is not as big as people think it is. In terms of Facebook’s content, news links account for well under 5% of their content (the rest is user generated content). So, slanting this conversation to be about the end of democracy and freedom is a massive over-exaggeration, in a world where over 95% of the Facebook population never even share a link to a news story.
- The government created a law, making it illegal to share a news link (or repurposed content) without paying the source. Facebook decided that it would rather their users not share these links, and now the government is forcing/asking/begging them to do this. Big Tech is both portrayed as a monster that is hoovering up Canada’s advertising revenue, while then being called essential players in maintaining public safety. Talk about government rhetoric. Plus, we can’t discount how much the media companies already profit from the use of these platforms to increase their traffic and their income.
- Many people will then surrender with thinking like: “We should block/ban Facebook entirely”… or “Facebook is dying anyways”… or “they’ve gotten away with these antics for too long.” As a reminder (and this is via the Quartz article: Facebook passed 3 billion users for the first time): “Facebook… exceeded 3 billion monthly active users for the first time, its parent company Meta reported today (July 26, 2023) in its second-quarter financial results… user base growing by 3% since this time last year… 11% growth in revenue… most of which comes from advertising.” That’s just Facebook not the other Meta properties. And, yes, that is their business model: Ads against the content… just like other media companies. If everyone in Canada blocked Facebook it would have very little impact on their business. Facebook is not dying or even close to life-support.
- There’s also this data point that Google and Meta earn 80% of all digital ad revenue in Canada (over $10 billion a year), and that Facebook pays hardly any taxes. This is very mis-leading. The percentage of that revenue based on news links or repurposed content is probably closer to 2% (maybe less). But, here’s the bigger point: Why did the Canadian government wait until July 2021 to impose a tax on corporations providing digital services? Should we blame Facebook and Google for this too? In 2021, Facebook paid $4.5 billion in corporate taxes globally, and long before that, the Canadian government were (and still are) active advertisers on the platform and, of course, heavy users of social media as well. I’m not questioning whether Big Tech is paying enough in taxes, I am asking if they are paying what is required of them by current law? And, based on the news, it doesn’t seem like any of these companies have been audited or considered off-side in regards to paying their taxes in Canada.
As I wrote in my article above:
Was there a back-and-forth on how everyone can work together in a more equitable way?
Maybe put the “links-for-money” model aside, and ask Big Tech to help fund more journalism or other kinds of mutually beneficial modeling?
Maybe help Canadian media outlets generate more traffic?
While many are making this either political or about how businesses should grow and how taxation should work, those still feel like distractions from the actual truth, which is this: Legacy media companies have been struggling for a long while, government bailouts might be required, and these two entities seem to be looking for a monetary solution beyond their own four walls.
If these organizations are laying out the case that handouts and bailouts needs to happen because of the truth that they provide to our society, I’d recommend that they look in the mirror first.
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