Meta Squares Up to Canada Over Publishing Law

(Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash)
(Photo Credit: Annie Spratt/Unsplash)

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If Facebook stopped your uncle with a weakness for conspiracy theories from incessantly posting news stories, would that be so bad?

On Monday, Meta’s Head of Global Affairs Nick Clegg doubled down on Meta’s threat to block news on its platforms in Canada if the government goes ahead with proposed legislation to make Big Tech companies hammer out licensing deals with news publishers for their content.

Have I Not Got News For You

Clegg was due to appear before a Senate committee hearing in Ottawa on Monday to discuss the bill, but declared he’d be a no-show. He is protesting that the title of the hearing had been switched from “The Response of Companies in the Information Technology Sector to Bill C-18” to the ever more slightly loaded: “Tech Giants’ Current and Ongoing Use of Intimidation and Subversion Tactics to Evade Regulation in Canada and Across the World”.

Although Clegg said he’s sending some Canada-based Meta representatives to get roasted in his stead, he published a prepared statement insisting that Meta doesn’t really need the news:

  • “Publishers choose to share their content because it benefits them to do so, whereas it isn’t particularly valuable to us at all,” Clegg said, adding: “Asking a social media company in 2023 to subsidize news publishers for content that isn’t that important to our users is like asking email providers to pay the postal service because people don’t send letters anymore.”
  • He also appeared to go out of his way to throw Google under the bus. “We’re not Google. They are an amazingly successful company that does extraordinarily useful things for people, but they operate a search engine that functions by using links to news web pages.”

Google has a history of following through on similar threats to remove news from its feeds when faced with the prospect of paying for it. Google News vanished from Spain in 2014 when the country codified online copyright laws forcing Google to pay local publishers a monthly fee. It reappeared in 2022 after Spain re-wrote those laws in accordance with EU regulation, meaning Google could individually negotiate with publishers rather than being forced to pay up. It’s also already tested out blocking news for some Canadians.

Holding the Line: Facebook suffered some intense political backlash in 2021 after shutting down news links in Australia during a fight with lawmakers over legislation not dissimilar to Canada’s. Meanwhile, Google quietly struck deals with publishers Down Under, and, when a massaged version of the legislation eventually passed, both the government and Big Tech said they’d won. Now California is considering a bill that would make tech companies funnel 70% of advertising revenue from news content toward local publishers. Meta and Google must genuinely be sick of the news — just like the rest of us.