Facebook told a parliamentary committee that it did not rule out blocking news on its platform in Canada in response to a controversial law that would oblige social media platforms to enter into contracts with news publishers for the content they use online.
“The short answer is we’re still evaluating that legislation. We didn’t know the scope of it until it was tabled very recently. I will say we do have some pretty serious concerns,” said Rachel Curran, public policy manager for Canada at Meta, Facebook’s parent company. This statement was in response to Conservative MP Raquel Dancho’s call for Meta to “clarify that it’s not off the table that you would take similar action that Facebook did in Australia in response to C-18.”
Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act, requires online platforms that have a bargaining imbalance, measured by metrics such as their global revenues, to reach fair agreements with news publishers that would be monitored by a government regulator.
When C-18 takes effect, it would force online platforms such as Google and Facebook to share revenue with publishers. Unless these tech giants reach commercial agreements with publishers that deserve government approval, including “fair compensation”, they will resort to binding bargaining and arbitration.
Independent arbitrators will lead the negotiations, but the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) will be the general regulator and can impose fines of up to $15 million a day on platforms that do not comply.
This law is very similar to the one passed by the Australian government last year, making it the first country to require social media platforms to pay for the news content they display on their websites.
Meanwhile, Curran told the same committee meeting that because Meta had not been consulted on the Canadian legislation, the tech giant “needs to look at it pretty closely before we decide what our future response will be.”
That claim was challenged by the Department of Canadian Heritage’s office, arguing that it was Facebook that chose not to participate in the consultations led by the Canadian government late last year.
Canada’s news media industry had long pushed the government for stricter regulation of the tech giants, saying that such a move would pave the way for the publishing industry to recoup the financial losses caused by Facebook and Google’s dominant share of advertising revenue – the publishing industry’s bread and butter.
More than 450 news outlets in Canada have closed since 2008, including 64 closures in recent years.