Instagram and Facebook Restrict Access To News Content Within Canada

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Instagram and Facebook have implemented measures to restrict access to news content within Canada, prompting concerns about the emergence of a ‘news desert’. Meta, the parent company of these platforms, recently initiated the blocking of news links and audiovisual news material on Instagram and Facebook for Canadian users. This move was a response to the Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, which was passed in June. This legislation stipulates that major tech corporations are obligated to remunerate local news outlets for featuring their content.

Over the forthcoming weeks, Meta will commence the process of preventing individuals in Canada from either viewing or sharing news-related content on Instagram and Facebook. This development has sparked apprehension among experts and news organizations who argue that eliminating trustworthy news sources could expose users to misinformation and negatively impact local news providers that rely on these platforms for visibility.

There are also concerns about Google potentially following suit in blocking news content. In June, Google announced its intention to remove Canadian news links rather than pay content fees in response to the law’s enforcement.

Michael Geist, an internet and e-commerce law professor at the University of Ottawa, expressed that this response to the legislation has resulted in a “news desert” across popular social media platforms in Canada. This impact will likely be most deeply felt by Canadian media companies, particularly smaller independent outlets heavily reliant on social media for traffic and revenue.

CBC/Radio-Canada, a national public broadcaster, remarked that Meta’s decision leaves Canadians who have come to rely on these platforms for news and information with only unverified sources in their feeds.

As Meta discontinues news availability in Canada, the company asserts its commitment to combating misinformation by fact-checking remaining content through third-party organizations. Users who lose access to news on Facebook and Instagram will be presented with a message stating, “People in Canada can’t see this content.”

Anna McKenzie, a reporter at IndigiNews, an Indigenous news site based in Vancouver, mentioned that she stopped seeing Canadian news on these platforms in July. She underlined how Facebook has been instrumental in connecting her women-led newsroom with Indigenous communities. She expressed concern over the decisions made by the federal government and tech giants, as these decisions risk silencing marginalized voices and potentially affecting personal identity through lack of representation in news and press.

IndigiNews is facing the risk of losing nearly half of its traffic, which predominantly comes from Facebook. The news outlet also lost funding from the Google News Initiative after the passage of Bill C-18.

Tara Jeffrey, an editor at The Sarnia Journal in Ontario, reported that their digital-only news site received notifications from Facebook indicating that their content was no longer available in Canada. This change is significant as Facebook was the primary source of referrals to their website. The impact is particularly burdensome for smaller independent news outlets, given the existing challenges in the industry, and exacerbates the spread of misinformation.

Notably, a certain percentage of Canadian users have already been affected by these measures, although the exact percentage remains uncertain. Meta has not responded to requests for comment regarding these developments.

In June, Meta disclosed its ongoing product tests aimed at ending news availability in Canada before the law comes into effect. According to the company, these tests have thus far impacted only a small percentage of Canadian users.

The Globe and Mail reported in July that Facebook and Instagram are blocking Canadian news outlets for approximately 5% of users in the country.

In the aftermath of these changes, numerous Canadian news outlets have encouraged their followers on Instagram and Facebook to consume content through alternative platforms or directly support them by bookmarking their websites and subscribing to newsletters.

Within the user community of Instagram and Facebook, some have explored alternative means to access news in Canada. Suggestions include using virtual private networks (VPNs) to simulate being in different locations and subscribing to online or print versions of newspapers.

The essence of the Online News Act is to facilitate fair compensation for news businesses for the use of their content. This legislation bears resemblance to a similar law enacted in Australia in 2021.

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