Last year, Facebook parent Meta said it may stop Canadians from sharing news content in response to the country’s proposed Online Sharing Act. Now, the company has announced that it will begin tests on Facebook and Instagram that “limit some users and publishers from viewing or sharing some news content in Canada,” it wrote in a blog post. The testing will take place over several weeks and the “small percentage” of users affected will be notified if they try to share news content.
“As we have repeatedly shared, the Online News Act is fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work, the preferences of the people who use them, and the value we provide news publishers,” the company wrote.
The proposed law, also known as Bill C-18, was introduced by the ruling Liberal government earlier this year. Modeled after a similar Australian law, it aims to force internet platforms like Facebook into revenue-sharing partnerships with local news organizations. It came about, in part, because of Facebook and Google’s dominance of the online advertising market — with both companies combined taking 80 percent of revenue.
Last year, Meta said it was trying to be “transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content in Canada.” The company made the threat after a government panel failed to invite Meta to a meeting about the legislation. Google also temporarily blocked some Canadian users from seeing news content.
In response, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called the tests “unacceptable,” Reuters reported. “When a big tech company… tells us, ‘If you don’t do this or that, then I’m pulling the plug’ — that’s a threat. I’ve never done anything because I was afraid of a threat,” he told Reuters.
Facebook, Google and others eventually agreed to the Australian law, and now pay publishers to post news links with snippets. Before that happened, though, Facebook followed through on its threat to block users from sharing news links in the nation. It later reversed the ban following further discussions, after the government made amendments addressing Facebook’s concerns about the value of its platform to publishers.
For now, the test will only affect a small number of users and for a limited time. If it follows the same playbook it used in Australia though, Meta may block news sharing for all users in Canada, possibly as a way to force the government and publishers to the bargaining table.
“As the Minister of Canadian Heritage has said, how we choose to comply with the legislation is a business decision we must make, and we have made our choice,” the company wrote. “While these product tests are temporary, we intend to end the availability of news content in Canada permanently following the passage of Bill C-18.”