It’s been more than two months since Facebook blocked news content in response to the Canadian government giving the royal assent to Bill C-18. But what exactly is Bill C-18? There’s a lot of confusion surrounding it, so let me explain what it means to us, here at the Seeker.
To start, Bill C-18 is a major piece of legislation that’s changing how social media platforms like Facebook interact with traditional news outlets in Canada. However, this has sparked a lot of debate and uncertainty.
You may have heard that internet giants have had a negative impact on the revenues of traditional media. But to say these tech companies are benefiting unfairly from news content shared on their platforms, as supporters of this law suggest, is highly debatable. Yes, hundreds of newsrooms have closed over the last few decades, but did they because of social media, or simply because of the fact established media tycoons did not keep pace with evolving times? Similar to how radio faced challenges when television emerged? I feel they didn’t adjust to the digital era, and their ability to compete has diminished, leading them to seek financial assistance from the government. Advertisers have shifted their focus to where the traffic is, and this has prompted calls for government intervention.
A key argument supporting the passage of Bill C-18 is that internet giants benefit from the sharing of news content on their platforms. To some degree, if we delve deeper into this argument, we could suggest that news content draws website traffic, subsequently attracting advertisers. However, a notable observation is that since the ban, Meta’s stock has continued to rise, while local news outlets have faced significant challenges. This raises an important question: Who relied on whom more in this scenario? And who benefits more from the relationship?
Case in point, Facebook, Instagram, Google, are fundamentally different from platforms like YouTube who absolutely makes money from the content created and shared by their users. Facebook’s primary purpose is to enable users to share personal updates, such as cute cat pictures or news about a family member’s wedding. The sharing of actual news on Facebook is more incidental than intentional. It’s crucial to understand that Facebook doesn’t initiate sharing of news content; its users do. In fact, one could debate that Facebook, rather than killing traditional media, has helped its survival by allowing users to share news freely, without charging media outlets for the immense exposure they receive. Similarly, Google has played a role by indexing news content for free, making it discoverable amid a sea of information. This, for platforms like “The Seeker,” has been a game-changer, leveling the playing field that was once dominated by media giants for decades, and enabling smaller entities, local ones, reporting the news in our communities, to thrive.
Furthermore, it’s crucial to keep in mind that we live in a capitalist society, not a communist one, where the principles of a free market are upheld. It’s somewhat perplexing that the government believed it could corner social media giants and compel them to pay other businesses for content generated by individuals. Imagine if we asked the government to mandate that our customers buy advertisements from us. Or, if the government declared that from now on, by law, you had to pay for your free copy of “The Seeker” the moment you picked it up. You’d likely respond with, “Well, I’m just not going to pick it up anymore.”
Just like Facebook did.
Side note to Facebook: while I understand why you would block Canadian news to avoid paying the “link tax” to Canadian News Outlets, restricting all news to all Canadians was a shitty move that does not reflect well on you. It tells all Canadians that you simply do not care about them.
As for you, our dear readers, if you are concerned about this flawed piece of legislation, please consider signing our petition online, via change.org. Let the government know you do not want to live in a country where the news is hidden behind a wall. Canada is not China.
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