Facebook could block news in Canada like it did in Australia


In the middle of February, as the Australian government was passing a bill that would force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news that surfaces on their platforms, Australia’s 16 million users found that news content had vanished from Facebook’s website and app. Now, with Canada’s government mulling similar legislation, it’s possible the story could repeat itself across the Pacific.

Sitting before a parliamentary committee on Monday, Facebook Canada’s head of policy, Kevin Chan, said that any law that forces Facebook to pay publishers each time their news content is shared on its platform “fundamentally breaks the premise of how a free and open internet works,” reports local media. 

When grilled about whether he thinks it’s a fair negotiating tactic for Facebook to pull news like it did in Australia, Chan neither endorsed nor ruled out such a move in Canada: “It is never going to be something that we would ever want to do, unless we really have no choice,” he said.

Facebook and Google’s fear that Australia could start a precedent appears to be on the cusp of being realized. Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who oversees media and communications in Canada, pledged in February to bring a bill similar to the one proposed by the Australian government to his country’s parliament. Guilbeault insists that bill is coming soon, according to the National Post. Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, in February promised “co-ordinating efforts” with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on pressuring big tech companies to pay for the content on their platforms.

It follows a tumultuous few months in Australia. While the Australian government was deliberating and then legislating the News Media Bargaining Code bill, Google threatened to pull search out of the country altogether. Later, Facebook abruptly hit the red button on news, with stories, branded Pages and links to news sites completely vanishing from the Australian platform. After five days of negotiations with Facebook and the Australian government, news was restored. The bill has since become law and both Google and Facebook have since signed major deals with several Australian publishers. 

“News is not free and never has been,” Guilbeault said in February. “Our position is clear: Publishers must be adequately compensated for their work and we will support them as they deliver essential information for the benefit of our democracy and the health and well-being of our communities.”  

If Guilbeault does propose a media bill to Canada’s parliament, it may not be the last. Australia’s Morrison previously called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to pressure big tech platforms to pay publishers, which would be particularly notable given there are more Facebook users in India than any other country. Earlier this month, Sushil Modi, a parliamentarian in India’s upper house, called for such a bill to be brought to India’s parliament

In defending Facebook’s contributions to journalism, Chan pointed to the Canadian Press News Fellowship, an initiative in which Facebook has invested $1 million and created 10 jobs in journalism that publish to a wire service. He said Facebook would commit $8 million more to the News Fellowship over the next three years and that Facebook will have invested $18 million to Canadian journalism in the past six years. Chan also noted that Facebook traffic is an asset to publishers, with the clicks that take users from Facebook to news sites being worth “hundreds of millions of dollars per year to the Canadian news industry.”

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