By Al Beeber
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Canada’s Competition Bureau is being asked to investigate news blocking by Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram.
News Media Canada, along with the Canadians Association of Broadcasters and CBC/Radio-Canada have applied to the bureau to investigate what they call Meta’s “abuse of its dominant position, as evidenced by its decision to block news content from its digital platforms in Canada.”
Those two sites – Facebook and Instagram – began blocking Canadians from seeing content posted by Canadians news creators on its platforms earlier this month.
News Media Canada said the applicants have asked the Competition Bureau “to use its investigative and prosecutorial tools to protect competition and prohibit Meta from continuing to block Canadians’ access to news content. The applicants also request that Meta refrain from discriminating, by algorithm or by any other means, against content from Canadian news organizations on its digital platforms accessible in Canada.”
The organizations believe Meta’s practices are designed to “discipline” Canadian news outlets, reducing their visibility to Canadians on social media while preventing them from participating in and accessing advertising.
“Meta’s anti-competitive conduct, which has attracted the attention of regulators around the world, will strengthen its already dominant position in advertising and social media distribution and harm Canadian journalism.
“Through Facebook and Instagram, which together account for more than 70 per cent of the online social media market in Canada, Meta effectively has substantial control over access to Canadian news,” says News Media Canada.
The organizations say Meta is trying to impair the ability of Canadian news gatherers to effectively compete “in the news publishing and online advertising markets.”
“Meta’s conduct will inevitably diminish Canadian news consumers’ exposure to news content and the volume of traffic to Canadian news organizations’ websites, thereby impairing their ability to compete for revenue from online advertising and from their readers.
“If Meta is allowed to proceed unchecked, it could inflict significant damage to Canadian news organizations’ ability to offer quality news services to Canadians, which is critical to the functioning of a free and democratic society,” says News Media Canada.
It’s estimated Bill C-18 could benefit the Canadian news industry by about $329 million with the government saying Google and Facebook earning 80 per cent of all digital advertising revenue in the country.
Since 2008, about 500 media outlets in 335 Canadian communities have shut down with more than 20,000 journalists losing work.
Two years ago, Facebook temporarily blocked news on its platform in Australia, to protest a similar proposed law but a deal was struck and the restriction ended.
In a 2021 posting, Facebook said the Australian law would have forced the company to “pay potentially unlimited amounts of money to multi-national media conglomerates under an arbitration system that deliberately misdescribes the relationship between publishers and Facebook – without even so much as a guarantee that it is used to pay for journalism, let alone support smaller publishers.”
It stated “we neither take nor ask for the content for which we were being asked to pay a potentially exorbitant price. In face, news links are a small part of the experience most users have on Facebook.”
The federal government last week announced its plan to pull all advertising from Meta platforms, which could cost the company about $10 million.
Google has also expressed its intentions to remove Canadian news content from search results but so far has not followed through with Southern Alberta Newspapers stories being available for searching and reading as of press deadline.