When Meta goes nuclear, we all suffer
The world is on fire and the billionaires at Meta are idly watching; they have no appetite for getting important, maybe even life-saving, news to the public because it is in the middle of a tit-for-tat power play with the Canadian government.
Perhaps this is a bit hyperbolic, but then again, it’s coming from the premier of B.C., whose province is literally going up in flames — and the last thing he needs is an argument with the world’s biggest social media company about why it’s choosing to block news dissemination during a life-threatening emergency.
If you are reading this column, chances are you already know that Meta, parent company of Facebook and Instagram, ended the availability of all news on its platforms in Canada. On Aug. 9, news outlets of all sizes – from the Low Down to the New York Times – were restricted from posting or sharing links while accessing the platform inside Canada. We found our profile pages wiped clean of all previously published articles.
This iron-fisted move was the way Meta – the company whose Goliath-proportioned dominance over the digital advertising market has directly or indirectly forced many media outlets into bankruptcy – decided to react when the Canadian government introduced Bill C-18, the new law that would require tech platforms to pay news organizations for news content shared on their platforms. While every business has the right to protest a law it doesn’t agree with, The Canadian Association of Journalists has described the impact of this move on the Canadian news ecosystem as “nuclear.”
Many news outlets rely on social media channels to reach their audiences and drive traffic required for online ad sales. If this block continues, it will be devastating to many media outlets.
Being old-school has its benefits; the Low Down is not dependent on social media channels and online advertising. We are print-first and we have dedicated and loyal subscribers who understand the value of paying for news. But we do need to grow our readership and reach a younger audience and Meta’s move is an obstacle to the plans we already have in place.
In a recent article in The Hill Times (by former LD reporter Stuart Benson), the publisher of B.C. online outlet The Tyee described the long-term effects to that of dropping a neutron bomb: the buildings would be left standing with sick people inside, but the ground would be “irradiated and sterilized” — in other words, it will prevent all Canadian media companies to grow and compete with U.S. companies, which will eventually take over.
Despite the fact that Meta is acting like a toddler having a temper tantrum because Canada won’t play by its rules, the stakes are high. As pointed out by the B.C. premier, news is more than a product — it’s an essential service, and it’s regular people, not just publishers, who suffer when tech Goliaths actively cut off news access. Imagine if Google follows suit and we won’t be able to access news on the biggest search engine in the world?
What can be done? Canadians can let Meta know they find their actions unacceptable by saying so or boycotting it; governments and companies can also boycott Meta, which Quebec and B.C. have already done, and put their ad dollars back into Canadian media. And Low Down readers can continue to buy subscriptions, bookmark our website and check it often, and sign up for our newsletter at www.lowdownonline.com.
And everyone could send a little help to all the Canadian communities ravaged by wildfires. Surely a local media outlet has written all about it — now it’s up to you to find it.