Meta Tests Removal of Canadian News Content in Response to Proposed Online News Act

Meta’s getting serious about its threats to remove Canadian news publishers from its apps, as a result of Canada’s proposed Online News Act, with Meta now conducting live tests to see how things will look without Canadian outlets in its apps, in order to ensure that it can effectively implement a ban, in the case of the Act being passed by Canadian Parliament.

As per Meta:

“As we prepare to comply with the legislation, we will begin tests on both [Facebook and Instagram] that will limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada.”

Meta says that it’ll launch randomized testing of the removal of Canadian news content, with users to see a pop-up notification if they attempt to share such in its apps. 

Product tests will impact news outlets both within and outside of Canada. Meta is identifying news outlets on our platforms based on the current language of Bill C-18. As drafted, the legislation states that news outlets are in scope if they primarily report on, investigate or explain current issues or events of public interest.”

Meta says that Canadian publishers will continue to have access to their Facebook and IG pages, but some of their content will not be visible, inside or outside of Canada, in either app, for the period of the test.

It’s a significant step, which seems designed to show Canadian legislators that Meta is indeed for real about its threat to remove Canadian news content outright, as a result of the proposed legislation.

Canada’s Online News Act, as it currently stands, follows a similar formula to Australia’s Media Bargaining Code, with the stated aim to address market imbalance within the local ad industry. With Meta and Google dominating the ad market, the concern is that local publishers are losing out, which is leading to less coverage – and thus, a less informed public – due to the reduction in diversity within the information sphere.  

As such, some governments are seeking to address this imbalance, by forcing Meta and Google to pay for any news links that are shared in their apps, with the understanding being that both companies actually benefit from such. Though as Meta has repeatedly argued, the publishers themselves actually benefit more from Facebook exposure than Facebook does from the engagement that content sees.

Meta’s actually been working to reduce the reach of political news content in its apps, due to user backlash around angst and argument, while Meta’s own stats also show that user exposure to posts that include external links has declined by some 50% over the last two years.

Which is a sobering stat for social media managers – but it underlines Meta’s stated case that it actually doesn’t need news content, and should not be forced to pay for it, as the end result will only be less reach for publishers due to a Facebook ban.

Canadian Parliament is still considering the proposal, but Meta’s clearly drawing a line in the sand, and underlining its willingness to go through with a full local news content ban, if the laws are implemented.

The impacts here could be significant, and it’ll be interesting to see if Meta does take the next steps in its response.

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