Meta, Google winning battle over Trudeau’s online news law

The biggest stories in the news this week are the fires burning Canada and the tropical storm and earthquake that rocked California. (I was in West Hollywood on Sunday when our phones popped up flash flood, tornado, hurricane/tropical storm and earthquake warnings — within hours of each other.)

And, not surprisingly, Justin Trudeau has been in the news as the prime minister blasted Facebook/Meta for banning Canadian news on the social media platform.

I’ve been in the news business for over 20 years (in this newspaper for nearly as long) so, naturally, I have an opinion about the controversial Bill C-18 and what it means to this industry.

Often labelled as the “censorship bill” though called the Online News Act, it requires companies such as Meta and Google to pay news outlets when users click links to news stories — something Google referred to as a “link tax” in a June blog.

The argument, at least from our federal government, is that news publishers aren’t being fairly compensated because of social media distribution. I’ve never understood this claim.

If links on social media platforms are directing users to the actual news agency’s website, isn’t that, like, kinda, doing the news outlet a favour? Isn’t that getting more “impressions” on the ads surrounding the news and the obnoxious pop-ups that encourage us to subscribe to their content?

I realize the news industry has seen a radical shift in the past decade or so, but hasn’t social media given greater reach to even the smallest of publications? Wait, scratch that. I’m not asking that as a question. I’m telling you: social media has given greater reach to even the smallest of publications.

Trudeau took issue with Meta blocking news coverage of the Canadian wildfires. Meta fired back saying in a statement, “People in Canada are able to use Facebook and Instagram to connect to their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.”

That, too, highlights a problem. People don’t think to go right to the source for information anymore.

Meta is absolutely correct. People need to utilize multiple channels to get information. It’s not enough to open Facebook and scroll and think you’re well informed. Why? Well, let’s just say you won’t be duped into believing sharks are swimming in Los Angeles streets during a tropical storm, Ted Cruz. (Google that. Oh wait, you might not be able to.)

While I don’t agree with Trudeau attempting to control the internet, I also take a moment to remind news consumers to think about where they get their information. In fact, I applaud you for still reading community news to stay informed. And why do you? Because you know certain publications have a long, trusted reputation in the community. Social media? Meh, still a sketchy place where anybody and everybody can write whatever whenever wherever.

Bill C-18, in a roundabout way — or not roundabout at all — hurts news publishers online, anyway. Trudeau thought the big tech companies would bow to the pressure, instead they showed who has more power.

Then again, if we’re in a world where people are too lazy to type (newspaperwebsite).com to get information… man, we’re headed for trouble.

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