It’s fascinating how quickly we can adapt to new realities. It wasn’t so long ago that many people were consuming their news content via links from Facebook. However, in the wake of the Online News Act – a piece of legislation intended to force big companies to distribute a fair share of advertising dollars with the smaller news media organizations who generate those dollars – news on Facebook has since disappeared. At first, it may have come as a shock to some social media users. By now, it just seems normal. Facebook is not a place to go for news. It has no news. It’s just the way it is.
I won’t pretend to know how much money it’s costing Facebook to have removed news content, but I assume they’re feeling at least a small loss. Meanwhile, Canadians still have print newspapers, radio and television news, and individual websites to receive their news content. In other words, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, probably thought it was going to be teaching the Canadian government a lesson by blocking news content in Canada. Now, it’s Meta’s turn to learn a lesson.
In the USA, there is new legislation that may soon come into effect, called the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA), which would “allow small and local news publishers to collectively negotiate with Big Tech for fair compensation for access to the journalistic content that generates revenue on those platforms,” according to News Media Alliance. This Act would therefore essentially be an American version of the Online News Act.
Meta may not have been too upset by the loss of Canadian news content ad revenue, but I think their tune may change if a similar situation unfolds south of the border. With 10 times the population, the financial hit they will take from the lost advertising revenue will presumably be 10 times greater. The company’s resistance is not logical – it comes down to pure and simple greed.
American writers Anya Schiffrin and Haaris Mateen have estimated that Meta and Google would owe US news publishers between $11.9 and $13.9 billion a year if the JCPA is passed. Remember – this money represents nothing more than a fair share of advertising revenue generated by content that these news publishers have produced. In other words, Meta and Google (the latter of which has, at the very least, continued to share news content in Canada) must be making far more money from news-related advertising in the US alone. This means the companies will have two choices: play fair, and pay those whose content generates the wealth, or lose the entirety of the revenue. The first option is expensive, but the second option is much worse – a veritable financial nightmare.
Business is business, and none of us should be surprised that tech giants are putting up a resistance to forking over billions of dollars. However, competition is well-accepted as a healthy – and indeed, critical – part of our economic system. Both Canada and the USA have competition bureaus. There is no reason whatsoever that tech giants like Meta and Google should make billions upon billions of dollars from sharing news content, while an increasing number of the smaller companies that produce the content are folding every day.
Do a quick internet search of the print newspapers that have been forced to shut down in Canada this year alone. You’ll be unpleasantly surprised. Within the past couple of months alone, you’ll find that two print newspapers in our area have stopped printing, including, of course, the Kemptville Advance. It’s one thing for an industry to struggle due to a lack of viability, but a whole other issue when tech giants are reaping the benefits of other companies’ work.
I hope, with the greatest conviction, that the JCPA passes, forcing Meta and Google to swallow a decency pill once and for all, and cast aside their greed in the name of fair news competition. The alternative is a world without integrity in news reporting, where politicians and other people in power are not held accountable, and where the public is not kept informed. I shudder to imagine it.