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News access suffering from Meta temper tantrum

Posted on August 24, 2023 by Ryan Dahlman

You’ve likely noticed some changes to your Facebook feed recently, as Meta has officially barred all news from its platforms across Canada in response to Bill C-18, or the Online News Act.

You might have a few questions. We did too. First and foremost, what does this mean for the Bow Island Commentator on Facebook?

Well, any posts we make are immediately hidden, as well as any and all of our previous posts. This means no photos, stories, links, ledes or postings of any kind can be seen on our Facebook pages. 

But that doesn’t mean our newspapers are going away. In fact, this only amplifies the importance of print and online journalism in regions like ours, though it will create some obstacles in the community — and it won’t be just journalism facing the short end of that stick.

Saskatchewan RCMP told The Canadian Press this week that the move will affect the way they relay information, as is most certainly the case with police detachments across the country, which rely on the reach of media outlets to quickly convey vital information to the public.

As a result, police services will need to invest greater resources into their social media presence, shifting the financial burden from a private industry to the public sector.

As long as this ban is in place, that same issue will be faced by municipal governments which may need to expand their presence on social media in order to ensure information on things like construction schedules, road closures, facility updates and more is reaching the same number of citizens.

The issue extends to community groups as well, which now face an uphill climb in getting the word out about their events and initiatives.

Yes, all this demonstrates how Facebook has undoubtedly provided a benefit to media outlets and consumers of journalism alike, by providing a streamlined method of collecting news from multiple outlets on a single platform where free discussion is encouraged. But they’ve also greatly benefitted from the work put into that collection by journalists across the nation.

Canada isn’t the first country to act upon this with legislation, as both Australia and Spain have already gone down the road we now travel — with differing results.

In Australia, Facebook also moved to ban all news content from its platforms in 2021, but it took less than a week for the parties to reach an agreement, with some amendments from Facebook.

Things didn’t go so smoothly — or quickly — in Spain. In 2014, the Spanish government introduced legislation that would have forced news aggregators like Google News to pay publishers for journalism. It took seven years for news to return to social media in Spain, and it came with an agreement to allow publishers to negotiate individually with Google. Now the Spanish government is investigating whether Google has been abusing its position with respect to that agreement.

Bill C-18 presents a complicated issue that will certainly impact readers and writers on both sides of the fence. But regardless of where you sit, the impact is the same, and thankfully the solution isn’t quite as convoluted as the problem.

If you want the news at your fingertips, the paper copy hasn’t gone anywhere and our websites and our online e-readers are still running strong. If it’s discussion you seek, commenting is open for users of our websites. If you use social media for advertising, consider keeping some of those dollars in your community.

We don’t know what will come of Bill C-18 in the weeks and months ahead, but we are confident this barring of news content is temporary. Whether that comes through the success or failure of the Online News Act, or even though the rise of a new social media company stepping into the shoes of giants — only time will tell.

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