Google and Meta block news in Canada
Tech companies punish media for increased government regulation
The Canadian government’s latest attempt to help out failing news outlets is having the opposite effect. Rather than comply with new regulations, Google, Facebook, and other major tech companies are cutting off Canadians’ access to locally produced online news.
“We’ve already seen Facebook and Instagram limit our posts, and Facebook was a pretty serious driver of traffic to us,” said Ezra Levant, the founder of Rebel News in Toronto. The independent conservative media company posts its video content on online platforms.
The crackdown on digital news follows the passage of the Online News Act in June by Canada’s governing Liberal Party. The law requires tech companies such as Google and Meta to pay certain Canadian news businesses for content that circulates on their platforms.
“It levels the playing field by putting the power of big tech in check and ensuring that even our smallest news business can benefit through this regime and receive fair compensation for their work,” Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement.
Over the next year, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will outline the specifics of how the law will roll out.
Shortly after the Online News Act passed, Big Tech companies retaliated. Meta and Google announced not only would they not comply but they would also block Canadian news from their platforms.
Google said it would remove news links exclusively for Canadian publishers and readers from their search engines, Google News, and Google Discover. On Aug. 1, Meta announced that over the next few weeks it would remove Canadian news from Facebook and Instagram. Canadians will no longer have the ability to share or access news articles and various content posted by publishers and broadcasters, including those from international sources. As private entities, Meta and Google have no constitutional obligation to provide Canadians with news.
Since 2008, nearly 500 media outlets have closed in Canada, resulting in the displacement of over 20,000 journalists.
The Liberal government has tried for years to stabilize the country’s news business, pumping more than CA$595 million into its media bailout program. The program uses a combination of tax credits and subsidies to provide financial support to approved media outlets known as Qualified Canadian Journalism Organizations (QCJO). An outlet must also be a QCJO to benefit from the payments that the Online News Act requires of larger tech companies.
Due to recent changes to the Income Tax Act, the Canada Revenue Agency and its Journalism Advisory Board have the authority to determine which companies qualify as QCJOs. They do this by reviewing the content that the company publishes.
Sarah Miller is a civil litigator with JSS Barristers, a top legal firm in Calgary, Alberta. She warned that the Online News Act could lead to censorship and pro-government propaganda.
“To its full extent, there will be government-approved news media and non-government-approved news media. It does start to seem like a bit of a propaganda machine, right?” she said. “It’s like saying this is the approved narrative. That’s what you get to consume. That’s what we will make accessible for you.”
In April 2023, the government also passed the Online Streaming Act, giving the government the power to regulate online streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube the way it regulates radio and TV broadcasts. The bill compels streaming platforms to boost Canadian-made content like films, TV shows, music, and music videos.
Rebel News is not a QCJO and doesn’t take on government funding. In 2021, YouTube barred it from receiving advertising revenue because the outlet did not follow the community guidelines in covering transgender issues.
“We have been downranked by Google, YouTube, and Facebook for political reasons, and we’ve always managed to survive. So, we’ll survive this too,” said Levant, the founder of Rebel News. “It’s interesting watching the legacy media try to survive because they’ve never had a tough day in their lives. They’ve always been bailed out by the government.”