Some Facebook users in Canada are no longer seeing any news content in their feeds. Under a new program being put in place by Meta, a subset of Canadian users are being blocked from accessing news items. The same restriction is being randomly applied to Instagram users. The ban is planned to run through the end of June and may be extended to the entire country next month. That will depend on whether or not the Canadian government passes a new law that would require tech platforms such as Facebook to pay publishers if users link to or “repurpose” any of their content. Known as the “Online News Act,” Bill C-18 is currently being debated and could pass some time this month if it’s signed into law. (AP)
Meta is temporarily blocking some Canadian users from accessing news content on Facebook and Instagram as part of a temporary test that is expected to last through the end of June, the tech giant said Thursday.
The block — which follows a similar step taken by Google earlier this year — comes in response to a proposed bill that will require tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online. Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is currently being considered in the Senate and could be passed as early as this month.
This story is pretty much a rerun of what happened when Facebook got into a fight with Australia over a similar law that was passed there. In February 2021, Facebook blocked Australian users from seeing or sharing news content. One week later, they reversed the ban after government officials held talks with the tech giant. In the end, the two sides wound up compromising, with Facebook continuing to provide news content without paying all news outlets, but compensating some of the smaller, independent sources. That doesn’t appear to be what will happen in Canada, however.
Individual news outlets are also being informed that their content will be filtered during the test. These may include the New York Times and the BBC. These advanced notices are being provided as a courtesy, but it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that Meta would like those news outlets to push back against Canada to avoid losing those audiences entirely.
Canada’s Heritage Minister expressed “disappointment” with Meta’s announcement. But he also said that Canadians would not be “intimidated” by these actions. If recent history tells us anything, it’s that the autocrats in today’s Canadian government don’t back down after they decide to go after someone, no matter the impact it may have on their citizens. Look no further than the truckers in the Freedom Convoys for an example. Rather than listening to the voices of the people, they simply started throwing the truckers in jail and seizing their vehicles.
In the end, the decision will be up to Facebook, as well as every other platform that may be affected. The company is under no obligation to deliver any particular bits of content and complaints about the suppression of free speech haven’t been particularly well-received by the courts. This leaves me wondering whether or not the new law will impact Twitter. Would Musk’s remaining technical team be able to develop filters capable of recognizing and filtering news content and make the filters specific to only Canadian users? It’s possible, I suppose.
Assuming all of this happens, Canadians will be left in the dark in terms of access to news apart from what their government allows to be delivered on radio and television. And that’s probably exactly how Justin Trudeau would like it to work. It’s much easier to control and suppress the people if they are kept in the dark and don’t have access to dissenting opinions and reports. That’s sad because Canadians could probably use some actual news, given the way they are reshuffling the alphabet.