On June 22, the Canadian government ratified the Online News Act. The Act, also known as Bill C-18, mandates that “dominant digital news intermediaries” compensate Canadian news organizations when they show links to news on their websites. Bill C-18 is the reason you can no longer view content from the CBC, The Montreal Gazette, The McGill Daily, and most other Canadian news organizations on Facebook and Instagram. It is also the reason you will soon be unable to access this content on Google. A law that was as ill-prepared as it is inconvenient, Bill C-18 delivers a heavy blow to Canada’s already crippled journalism industry.
In an era where more people are consuming their news online rather than in print, and due also to the monopolies held by Meta and Google, news organizations have become heavily reliant on these platforms to distribute their content. According to Parliament, Bill C-18 was intended “to regulate digital platforms that act as intermediaries in Canada’s news media ecosystem in order to enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news market.” It hoped to support negotiations between “dominant digital news intermediaries” – namely, Google and Meta (the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) – and news businesses to ensure fair compensation. However, no such negotiations have taken place: first Meta and now Google have decided to remove links to Canadian news from their platforms rather than compensate news organizations.
Meta says the legislation “is based on the incorrect premise that Meta benefits unfairly from news content shared on [its] platforms, when the reverse is true” – in other words, Canadian news organizations need Meta more than Meta needs them. Meta blocked access to Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram on August 1.
Google, meanwhile, has referred to Bill C-18 as a “link tax” that could potentially expose the company to “uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news.” Google also says it tried to negotiate with the Canadian government over Bill C-18 and that it is willing to support Canadian journalism in other ways. Canadian news will be removed from Google’s Search, News, and Discover functions by the end of this year.
How does all of this impact the Daily? The Daily’s Instagram account – a critical platform for us to promote our content and interact with readers – is currently unviewable to users in Canada, as is our Facebook page. Unless the Act or the approaches of Meta and Google change, we expect that our website will be unsearchable on the world’s biggest search engine by the end of the year.
The Daily acknowledges that Bill C-18 was a well-intentioned effort by the Canadian government designed to protect news organizations amid falling subscriptions and declining revenues. It is equally true that compensating Canadian news organizations would make hardly a dent in the fortunes of Meta and Google, whose combined net worth is almost $2.5 trillion USD at the time of writing. But the Canadian government (and the academics and policy experts that guide its decisions) ought to have predicted that Meta and Google would react in this way. In 2021, the same year that Bill C-18 was introduced in the House of Commons, Australia passed a similar law that received similar backlash. The difference between Bill C-18 and the Australia law, the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, is that the Australian government could impose deals between tech companies and news organizations if they refused to collaborate – this brought Facebook and Google to the negotiation table. Since the Canadian government didn’t implement such a measure, it should have expected that Meta and Google would simply block Canadian news.
Despite the government’s aim to “enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news market,” Bill C-18 has affected every Canadian news organization differently. The censoring tools of Meta and Google are not perfect: at the time of writing, for instance, the Instagram accounts of the Daily, Le Délit, and The Bull & Bear have been blocked, while that of the Tribune remains visible. The Daily is lucky to be able to distribute print newspapers on and around McGill’s downtown campus, but many Canadian news organizations now operate entirely online. When the content of online-only news organizations isn’t viewable on Facebook, Instagram, or Google, they will struggle to reach new readers and retain current ones.
Perhaps even more concerning is that the decreased availability of reliable Canadian news sources may aid the dissemination of misinformation and extremist content. While both Meta and Google have promised to continue providing information related to emergency situations in Canada, such as SOS Alerts on Google searches and maps, access to trustworthy news on everyday developments in Canadian politics and society is hardly unimportant.
As long as Bill C-18 hangs over our heads, you can continue to support the Daily by: reading our print newspapers (published every Monday); subscribing to our newsletter (details to be announced in our next issue); and, after Google’s block has come into effect, accessing our website on search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo. For the foreseeable future, we’ll be relying more heavily on the power of posters to advertise elections and events, so look out for the Daily logo on cork boards around campus!