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This Is Not a Drill: Meta’s Ban on Canadian News Ramps Up

Zuckerberg is going full steam ahead on his Canadian news block. This week's updates on C-18.

Sarah Krichel 3 Aug 2023The Tyee

Sarah Krichel is The Tyee’s social media manager.

In the last few weeks, targeted Canadian news outlets have weathered the blow dealt to them by Meta and said goodbye to sharing news content via Instagram.

These outlets were part of Meta’s “test” phase, impacting only five per cent of users. This week, Meta announced that this is no longer a drill.

The permanent Canadian news ban will roll out in the coming weeks for all Canadian users and news outlets on Instagram — and now Facebook too, both platforms of parent company Meta.

It’s the latest development in what some see as a game of chicken — an increasingly nail-biting one — between Meta and the federal government after the Liberals’ Bill C-18, or the Online News Act, was passed on June 22.

The bill requires tech giants to pay news outlets for the content shared on their platforms, but Meta and Google have long argued that, should the bill pass, their only viable business option would be to end news content on its platforms entirely.

Meanwhile, social media users continue to acclimate themselves to the new Twitter, err, "X" rollout — both digitally and physically — though the installation of the new logo on the roof of the headquarters in San Francisco didn’t last long.

Where are we at the intersection of social media and news media, the internet and democracy? Here’s this week’s updates on C-18.

‘Begin to end news’: an unforgiving ban

“We have begun the process of ending news,” Meta said Aug. 1. “These changes start today, and will be implemented for all people accessing Facebook and Instagram in Canada over the course of the next few weeks.”

This means individual users will no longer be able to post, repost or view news content in Canada.

Meta has also confirmed that content posted by non-Canadian news providers will not be viewable by people in Canada, confirming some users’ experience when they noticed they were already unable to view American news links in Canada.

The ban on news will also extend to audiovisual content. Now-former heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez previously confirmed that Threads, Meta’s new text-based social media platform that draws comparisons to Twitter, would eventually be regulated under the bill too.

Rodriguez, previously on the Bill C-18 frontlines, was replaced by Pascale St-Onge as part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet shuffle on July 26.

St-Onge’s takeover of the post doesn’t point to any changes for Bill C-18. ​​“Our government is going to keep standing our ground,” she told the Globe and Mail. “Canadians expect tech giants to pay their fair share.”

Details of the bill are still to be hashed out as Canadian Heritage sets out next steps, including how to regulate the extent to which the tech platforms pay news outlets.

Google tested removing news content earlier this year, but those tests have since concluded. It has said it plans to end news availability on its Search, Discover and News products once the bill takes effect, which is set to happen in December.

Canadian media react

Many Canadian news outlets are taking to Instagram once again for a final warning call to their followers that they will soon be blocked on Meta’s social platforms.

Three screenshots of error messages on the social media platforms of three Canadian news organizations.
Instagram posts addressing the C-18 news ban from CBC left; Canadaland centre, and the Narwhal, right. Screenshots via Instagram.

There are loopholes. The Breach noted in a post on Instragram, “The Breach is back, coming to you from anywhere in the world but Canada (courtesy of a VPN).” But with Canadian users soon to be blocked from viewing news, it’s unclear how this will play out.

The Tyee previously reported on the various ways in which this news ban — and Google’s looming one — will impact digital news outlets. Some outlets say they are working to diversify the social media platforms they use, while others double down on their newsletter strategies to stay in direct contact with their readers.

The biggest blow, however, goes to discoverability for Canadian newsrooms — especially newer publications, or publications that haven’t been started yet. 

“The playbook for starting a publication within the last 10 years, the playbook for reaching an audience and building up your brand, centres heavily around social media platforms,” said Tyee publisher Jeanette Ageson in a CBC Radio interview earlier this week.

“It’s thrown the strategy for how to launch a new digital publication completely up in the air.”

This article is part of an occasional series on how Canadian media became intertwined with major tech platforms, and how it’s affecting Canadians and their access to journalism.

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