If we ever needed an even better reason to hate Facebook than the multitude of reasons that already exist, we may have gotten exactly that last week. News Media Canada writes that Meta, the company that owns Facebook, “announced last week that it would begin a test that would block news content for some Canadians on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, in preparation for the potential passage of Bill C-18, the Online News Act by federal parliamentarians.”
I don’t agree with much that Prime Minister Trudeau’s government does, but I have no qualms about Bill C-18. The Bill would require large media companies like Facebook and Google to compensate small news companies for articles that they use on their platforms. Why? Companies like Facebook and Google are immensely wealthy, yet their users know them as “free”. Indeed, their wealth comes not from subscription fees or user fees, but from advertising. Quality content is a necessity for online advertising to be effective. No one watches TV just for the commercials, just as no one browses the internet just for ads. Content creators, including small news agencies, therefore deserve to be compensated for the content they produce. The large social media and search engine companies that use this content have ample funds to do so.
I wouldn’t expect a large, greedy business to have compassion, common sense, or even maturity. But the hissy fit that Meta is throwing over Bill C-18 takes the cake on the immaturity scale. It is also selfish and potentially dangerous. As News Media Canada President Paul Deegan puts it, “Meta’s decision to ‘unfriend’ Canada by denying access to trusted sources of news for some of their users, as wildfires burn and when public safety is at stake, is irresponsible and tone deaf.”
Those of us who work in the independently and locally owned print news industry – and whose work is therefore unaffected by conglomerate hissy fits – are sitting back and watching the petty battle unfold. It’s a veritable popcorn party of “sitting and observing”. It’s so tempting to stand up and sarcastically lament, “if only there was a way people could get trusted news delivered right to their door or mailbox, in printed format, with no interference from disgustingly rich Americans… oh wait!”
What is most insulting about this situation is the mockery it makes of capitalism. The ability to open and run an independent business, making one’s own way in life, helping customers and supporting employees is a hallmark of capitalism. Greed gives capitalism a bad image.
Think of all the small, independently owned businesses in North Grenville, and the tremendous amount of work that local entrepreneurs put into making these businesses successful. Many small business owners can’t pay themselves for several years after they first start their business. They are experts in doing work on the basis of a handshake and the strength of their word. They employ well over half of all Canadian workers. And they eliminate the environmental impacts of unnecessary travel by keeping goods and services nearby.
Now think of what would happen if small business owners behaved like Google or Facebook. Take the B&H grocery store, for example. Celebrating 60 years in business, it did not come this far or earn its stellar reputation from greed. Can you imagine a grocery story insisting that its food suppliers give up their food for free so that it can turn around and sell the food for massive profits? It’s unheard of, and it’s a request that would be quickly laughed off. The sad thing is – Facebook and Google aren’t just asking for this to happen – they are currently getting away with it! They reuse content produced by small news agencies, fail to pay for the content, and then use it to produce ad revenue. It’s not stealing in a legal sense, but it is analogous to a small business owner demanding that someone else pay to stock their shelves so that they can reap all the benefits!
More revealing information from News Media Canada: “Earlier this year, Google rolled out tests that block access to news content for some Canadian users in the event C-18 becomes law.” Google had a revenue of $279.8 billion in 2022. Billion – with a “B”. Most of this money was generated by ads. These ads have absolutely no value without consumers seeing them. And consumers have no desire to see ads, so they must be lured into seeing the ads using quality content. There is no reason why Google can’t afford to pay the people who produce that quality content. For those who need some context – Google made enough money in 2022 to pay every man, woman, and child in Canada over $7,000 each. Google’s revenue could virtually end world hunger in a single day. Yet we are not asking for miracles and grand gestures – we are simply asking that they have enough compassion to pay the hard working people who made their fortune for them.
We must all wait to see if Google and Facebook will follow through on their threat to stop showing internet news to Canadians. The move is not as powerful as it seems – the companies would essentially be wiping out a huge portion of their own revenue from an entire country of 38 million people by refusing to show those people the content that draws them into the ads. In the meantime, we shall throw a popcorn party. Grab your bowl, and a newspaper, and watch the drama unfold.