Have you heard the news?
Google and Meta, the biggest players in the world of social media, intend to start blocking Canadian news stories in response to the passage of Bill C-18.
“Real journalism, created by real journalists, continues to be demanded by Canadians and is vital to our democracy, but it costs real money,” Paul Deegan, president and CEO of News Media Canada, said after the Bill passed June 22.
That afternoon, Lisa Sygutek of the Crowsnest Pass Herald, Amanda Zimmer of the Claresholm Local Press, myself and other board members of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, heard directly from Paul.
Board president Evan Jamison of the St. Albert Gazette and AWNA executive director Dennis Merrill have made several trips east to share information on behalf of Alberta newspapers at hearings regarding this bill. They have kept members apprised of progress with Bill C-18 and roadblocks along the way.
Collectively, I think we felt cautious optimism after the discussion with Paul, with an emphasis on the word cautious.
Lisa also felt positive about a class-action lawsuit she and the Pass Herald have launched against Google and Facebook on behalf of Canadian newspapers. This is a tale for another day.
Social media outlets earn big dollars from Canadian journalism. Every share of a news article equals a cha-ching on their cash register.
We benefit as well. Social media can drive traffic to the Shootin’ the Breeze website as it is a quick way to advise our followers of new content and breaking news.
For every fraction of a penny we earn as people scroll past a Google ad on the Breeze website, Google earns many, many, many times more. The same thing happens on Facebook.
Meta and Google earn dollars to the pennies left to businesses that do the work. This applies to shared content of all kinds, from recipes to travel blogs, and is not limited to newspapers.
When negotiations over C-18 began, it was said that Canadian media would stand unified in this bid for just compensation for the money social media outlets earn from their work.
However, some larger players quickly struck independent deals with Meta and Google. Only they and the flies on the wall know the details of the deals and the value of the compensation.
A big problem right now is that most of us lack a clear understanding of what losing and winning look like.
No one seems to know just how the news blocking will work.
When you consider the significant information Google and Meta hold about us all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to determine who’s in and who’s out.
It took only one day for Meta to spring into action against Bill C-18.
“We are confirming that news availability will be ended on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada prior to the Online News Act (Bill C-18) taking effect,” Meta announced June 22.
The press release says, “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.”
This encompasses virtually all Canadian media and, while they will continue to have access to their Facebook and Instagram accounts and pages, and to post to them, “some content will not be viewable in Canada.”
On June 29, Google announced its own plans to block and remove news in Canada on its search engine, aggregator and Discover app.
While the Pincher Creek Echo no longer exists in a traditional print or digital format, Postmedia, its parent company, made a deal with Google last summer and is reportedly paid for news content.
In the same announcement last week, Google said it would end deals currently in place with Canadian publishers.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world where there will be winners and losers. It looks like the big social media dogs have decided they will simply take the ball and run with it rather than enter into negotiations with us little guys.
This may seem like a lot of talk about money. While it was nice to imagine generating more revenue (if only for a moment), the reality is that small independent publishers, like many of us in southwestern Alberta, are not in a good place to be staring revenue reduction in the face.
Yes, the dollars matter, but it’s about more than that to me and to every community newspaper publisher I know.
There is a difference between news and journalism, and what Google and Meta are doing stands to give fake news an opportunity to thrive.
I’ve hated the term since former U.S. president Donald Trump made it popular and overused it, but it is real.
Canadian publishers are held to ethical standards and accountable for their news presentation.
Have you heard, is not how any news article should begin unless it is clearly marked as editorial content. Word on the street is not always true and little accountability exists when it’s not, whether intentionally or simply in error.
As a publisher, my integrity is on the line every time I write an article or print one by my staff. That even goes to letters to the editor — when we know something is incorrect, hateful or offside, it either doesn’t run or is discussed with the author and corrected.
We are human and when we make mistakes our team owns them, corrects them and offers a sincere apology.
We are journalists and integrity is at the heart of what we do.
As someone dedicated to community service, I do my utmost to make sure people know of emergency-room closures, wild weather alerts and evacuation notices. My team members do the same.
In preparation for a news-blocking scenario, we are working on some “Plan Bs” in the background. We will do everything within our power to ensure you receive important and factual information in a timely manner. More than that, we will continue sharing community stories and keeping you connected with your neighbours.
Social media has changed greatly over the past 15 years. Facebook was once a place for connecting with family and friends. Now it’s hard to find those types of posts when you log on.
Anonymity has also created a breeding ground for misinformation and hatred and I shudder what they will look like down the road.
Our followers will find the Breeze website a pleasant, interactive space as we shift our focus from sharing content on social media to turning shootinthebreeze.ca into a community hub for southwestern Alberta.
Google and Meta have been testing news blocking over the winter and spring, and I’m sure we will see significant changes in the near future.
Meta’s press statement closes with, “While these product tests are temporary, we intend to end the availability of news content in Canada permanently following the passage of Bill C-18.”