Meta to restrict news availability in Canada as controversial online news bill passes

In a move that has sparked controversy, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has announced plans to restrict news availability on its platforms in Canada. This decision comes after the country’s parliament passed a contentious online news bill known as Canada’s Online News Act.

The bill, which successfully cleared the senate on Thursday, aims to address the issue of compensation for news publishers whose content is posted on major social media platforms. Under the new legislation, companies such as Meta and Google will be required to engage in commercial negotiations with news organisations and remunerate them for the use of their content.

Expressing its strong opposition to the law, Meta criticised the Online News Act, referring to it as “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work.” The company contends that being compelled to pay for links or content not posted by them, which do not form the primary reason for user engagement, is neither sustainable nor practical.

As a result, Meta has taken the preemptive step of announcing that news availability on Facebook and Instagram will be discontinued for all users in Canada, even before the new bill officially comes into effect. However, the company clarified that this change will not impact other services offered to Canadian users.

The Canadian government argues that the online news bill is necessary to promote fairness in the country’s digital news market and to assist struggling news organizations in securing fair compensation for their content and shared links on social media platforms.

Critics of the legislation have raised concerns about its potential impact on news publishers. They argue that restricting news sharing on platforms like Facebook and Instagram may result in significantly reduced exposure for news outlets. Furthermore, they highlight that these platforms generate billions of free referrals to publishers, making it difficult to comprehend how halting news sharing will benefit news publishers in the long run.

Despite the opposition, media industry groups have praised the passage of the bill, seeing it as a step toward achieving market fairness. Paul Deegan, the president and CEO of News Media Canada, a prominent media industry group, emphasised the importance of supporting real journalism and highlighted the financial challenges faced by news organizations.

The Online News Act is expected to take effect in Canada in six months’ time.