Here we go again.
With the Canadian Government looking to implement a new Online News Act, which would effectively force major platforms like Meta and Google to negotiate commercial deals with local news publishers, Meta has threatened to remove Canadian news outlets from Facebook entirely, if the act is passed in its current form.
The Canadian Government is seeking to address imbalances in the local media market, where Meta and Google have gradually taken more and more of the ad market share. But Meta has argued that it doesn’t actually need news content, as per the basis of the legislation, given that most users don’t come to its platforms for news access.
Meta says that it will stand by this if the new rules are enforced, and block Canadian media outlets completely.
Back in 2021, the Australian Government established a similar Media Bargaining Code, which is designed to force Meta and Google to share revenue with Australian publishers for any use of news content, including links to their sites.
The aim of the code is to ‘address bargaining power imbalances between digital platforms and media companies’, and ensure that local news publishers are able to keep making money, essentially sustaining local journalism in the new digital environment.
But the legislation has always been flawed, and as both Meta and Google have argued, it makes little sense to enact such rules on the platforms that help deliver news to audiences.
But the Australian Government pushed ahead with the plan anyway, which eventually led to Meta banning Australian news publishers on its platforms entirely, in order to avoid paying for news content.
The ban lasted less than a week, but Meta made its point, which led to a renegotiation of the terms of the Media Bargaining Code, making it more favorable to Meta and its interests.
The Australian Government has since touted the success of the code, claiming that over 30 commercial agreements have been established between Google and Meta and Australian news businesses, which sees over $AU200 million being re-distributed to local media providers annually.
The actual figures here are not entirely clear, but the Australian Government claims that it’s been able to use this revenue-share program to fund a range of educational and support programs to foster local media growth, creating a more sustainable media ecosystem.
Which is why Canada’s now looking to enact the same – though it seems likely that it’ll need to revise its approach, because as we’ve already seen, Meta’s likely not bluffing in its threats.
Will that see a Facebook news ban in Canada? Will that matter?
There is also an argument to be made that Meta is now less reliant on news content than ever before, with short-form video now driving more in-app engagement. Meta has also been seeking to reduce political content on Facebook, in order to avoid user angst, and it could well be that Meta really doesn’t need news content much at all these days, which dilutes the Government’s position.
But still, maybe they can get something out of it, and with the Australian example paving a way forward, you can bet that local news publishers are pushing to get anything they can from Meta and Google’s profits.
In the end, it seems likely that some arrangement will be met. But a full news ban could happen, which would cause major disruption in the Canadian market.