Peter Menzies: Online News Act Debacle Was All Very Predictable

Commentary Canada’s attempts to play the tough guy took some laughable turns last weekend as those leading the fight couldn’t have made it more clear that politicians need Facebook a lot more than it needs politicians. The week began with a macho enough veneer. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez held a news conference in which—as a show of solidarity—he was joined by Martin Champoux, Bloc Quebecois Critic for Heritage, Arts and Culture, and the NDP’s Peter Julian, his party’s Heritage critic. The purpose of their presentation was to fluff up their feathers, slap their thighs, beat their chests, and talk like good fellas in the face of the well-anticipated response from Meta and Google to Canada’s absurdly constructed Online News Act. Also known as Bill C-18, the act is designed to force the Big Tech companies to subsidize news organizations, primarily those that are failing to transition to the digital economy such as legacy newspapers. The response from Meta was as it had promised since the autumn of 2022—once the act comes into force, its products Facebook and Instagram will simply get out of the news business. Those who try to post a link to a news story or related commentary will find that they are unable to do so. Companies attempting to use their Facebook and Instagram accounts to post links to their latest content in order to drive traffic to their websites will find they are no longer able to do so. Google is still trying to find a way to work with the government on a reasonable compromise, but it, similar to Meta, has announced that once Bill C-18 is active, Canadian news links will no longer appear via its search engine. Both companies made it clear that all their current funding—some of which has been in place for several years—for Canadian journalism will come to an end. For many news organizations, this is a disaster, but it was all very predictable. Among its many faults, Bill C-18 creates a “pay for links” scenario in which Meta and Google would be forced to pay news organizations, potentially every time a link to their content is posted. Given that they have no control over how many links get posted to what, this creates an unlimited financial liability, something to which no sane business operator can expose their company. If there was anyone on Rodriguez’s team who had even the teeny tiniest concept of how the world actually works, this scenario would never have been created. But there obviously isn’t and it was. Rodriguez often boasts about how “the world is watching” Canada as it breaks new ground in taking on Big Tech. In doing so, he remains oblivious to the fact the world is indeed keeping a keen eye on affairs in the Great White North and that is precisely why the companies have taken the action they have. If all Bill C-18 did was force them to sprinkle another $100 million or so on the doorsteps of Rodriguez’s favourite publishers, he’d have gotten away with it. But if the pay-per-link, unlimited liability scenario were to be replicated globally, it could cripple even the internet’s behemoths. The cost could be in the tens of billions. Rodriguez and his wingmen didn’t really have much in response. The next day, the federal government announced it was suspending its ad buys on Facebook, which amounts to about $11 million. The Quebec government and City of Montreal did the same, but that was about it from governments. The total loss to Meta is unlikely to equal the amount they will be saving on their current support for journalism. Then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likened this disaster of his own making to being at war. “We want to defend democracy,” he said when a reporter asked him about the situation on July 5. “This is what we are doing across the world, such as supporting Ukraine. This is what we did during the Second World War.” Yup. He said that. If you thought that was a good belly laugh, what followed was even better. The Liberal Party of Canada confirmed that it would continue to advertise with Meta regardless of the government’s tough-guy stance. Rodriguez continues to post to his Facebook page and self-promote. He even added a reel on July 8. Same with Trudeau who, before flying off to Latvia to be taken out to the woodshed by NATO allies for his shabby commitment to military spending, was at the Calgary Stampede. He, too, was happy to put his own self-interest ahead of what he claims is the nation’s. By the afternoon of July 10, the government was signalling what appeared to be a full retreat when it posted proposed regulations that could constitute giving Google what it asked for. In other words, when it comes to playing tough with web giants, Rodriguez and Trudeau have simply confirmed what the watching world already knows: They don’t have a winning hand. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Peter Menzies: Online News Act Debacle Was All Very Predictable

Commentary

Canada’s attempts to play the tough guy took some laughable turns last weekend as those leading the fight couldn’t have made it more clear that politicians need Facebook a lot more than it needs politicians.

The week began with a macho enough veneer. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez held a news conference in which—as a show of solidarity—he was joined by Martin Champoux, Bloc Quebecois Critic for Heritage, Arts and Culture, and the NDP’s Peter Julian, his party’s Heritage critic.

The purpose of their presentation was to fluff up their feathers, slap their thighs, beat their chests, and talk like good fellas in the face of the well-anticipated response from Meta and Google to Canada’s absurdly constructed Online News Act. Also known as Bill C-18, the act is designed to force the Big Tech companies to subsidize news organizations, primarily those that are failing to transition to the digital economy such as legacy newspapers.

The response from Meta was as it had promised since the autumn of 2022—once the act comes into force, its products Facebook and Instagram will simply get out of the news business. Those who try to post a link to a news story or related commentary will find that they are unable to do so. Companies attempting to use their Facebook and Instagram accounts to post links to their latest content in order to drive traffic to their websites will find they are no longer able to do so.

Google is still trying to find a way to work with the government on a reasonable compromise, but it, similar to Meta, has announced that once Bill C-18 is active, Canadian news links will no longer appear via its search engine. Both companies made it clear that all their current funding—some of which has been in place for several years—for Canadian journalism will come to an end.

For many news organizations, this is a disaster, but it was all very predictable. Among its many faults, Bill C-18 creates a “pay for links” scenario in which Meta and Google would be forced to pay news organizations, potentially every time a link to their content is posted. Given that they have no control over how many links get posted to what, this creates an unlimited financial liability, something to which no sane business operator can expose their company. If there was anyone on Rodriguez’s team who had even the teeny tiniest concept of how the world actually works, this scenario would never have been created.

But there obviously isn’t and it was. Rodriguez often boasts about how “the world is watching” Canada as it breaks new ground in taking on Big Tech. In doing so, he remains oblivious to the fact the world is indeed keeping a keen eye on affairs in the Great White North and that is precisely why the companies have taken the action they have. If all Bill C-18 did was force them to sprinkle another $100 million or so on the doorsteps of Rodriguez’s favourite publishers, he’d have gotten away with it. But if the pay-per-link, unlimited liability scenario were to be replicated globally, it could cripple even the internet’s behemoths. The cost could be in the tens of billions.

Rodriguez and his wingmen didn’t really have much in response. The next day, the federal government announced it was suspending its ad buys on Facebook, which amounts to about $11 million. The Quebec government and City of Montreal did the same, but that was about it from governments. The total loss to Meta is unlikely to equal the amount they will be saving on their current support for journalism.

Then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau likened this disaster of his own making to being at war.

“We want to defend democracy,” he said when a reporter asked him about the situation on July 5. “This is what we are doing across the world, such as supporting Ukraine. This is what we did during the Second World War.”

Yup. He said that.

If you thought that was a good belly laugh, what followed was even better.

The Liberal Party of Canada confirmed that it would continue to advertise with Meta regardless of the government’s tough-guy stance.

Rodriguez continues to post to his Facebook page and self-promote. He even added a reel on July 8. Same with Trudeau who, before flying off to Latvia to be taken out to the woodshed by NATO allies for his shabby commitment to military spending, was at the Calgary Stampede. He, too, was happy to put his own self-interest ahead of what he claims is the nation’s.

By the afternoon of July 10, the government was signalling what appeared to be a full retreat when it posted proposed regulations that could constitute giving Google what it asked for.

In other words, when it comes to playing tough with web giants, Rodriguez and Trudeau have simply confirmed what the watching world already knows: They don’t have a winning hand.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.