Faceblocked: why readers of local products should care

Ryan Dahlman

It has already happened to both papers in Swift Current. 

The dreaded “People in Canada can’t see this content In response to Canadian government legislation, news content can’t be viewed in Canada. Learn more” notice whenever a reader of our publications tries to access the Prairie Post’s Facebook pages. 

No more direct links to stories on media sources all from the Southwest Booster to CBC, CTV and the Regina Leader Post, or Toronto Star

If you hadn’t heard about the controversy, the Canadian government passed Bill C-18 or the Online News Act which requires social media mega groups like Meta (Facebook or Instagram) pay news agencies like News Media Canada if news stories appeared on those sites. When the law comes into effect in December, Google says it will eliminate all news links for Canadians including the “news” and discover” options. Bill C-18 was created because a lot of the absolutely free content which is on Facebook, other than a FB friend’s dog’s latest trick is from an outside source which they tap into. 

 As media outlets, we use the business option on Facebook in order to better serve the public. 

However with Facebook offering local advertising, plus getting the free news content, it isn’t a fair playing field. 

Advertising revenue pays the bills and while it is convenient to just put it on Facebook, Facebook doesn’t care a social group is having a fundraiser, the results of the local AAA provincial baseball tournament, rodeo, the latest on the 57s or Legionnaires, reports on missing persons and Amber Alerts are blocked because of a water main break. We do. We inform you on all avenues we can, But Google, Facebook and Instagram are getting hits because of our work that they are not paying for.

Regardless, because of this Bill passing, Meta — and probably Google by Christmas time — have said no one can see any Canadian media content on their site. Blocked. 

US tech companies such as Meta have been draining local Canadian outlets’ revenue streams for years. This reduces the number of local journalist positions Facebook is not contributing to the local or Canadian economy and not paying Canadian income taxes on their profits. Ever seen a representative from Facebook at a provincial soccer or baseball tournament in southwest Saskatchewan. Yet the idea is let’s just put it on Facebook? The local outlet does the story, but without any kind of advertising revenue. Once we put it up on our websitem there it for Facebook to pass it along their streams. See the problem for Canadian media?

The group which is the umbrella group for Canadian newspapers, News Media Canada, offered this explanation of asking the Competition Bureau to look into this ‘abuse of power.’

“News Media Canada, the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and CBC/Radio-Canada (“the applicants”) have applied to Canada’s Competition Bureau to investigate Meta’s abuse of its dominant position, as evidenced by its decision to block news content from its digital platforms in Canada.

The applicants ask the Competition Bureau to use its investigative and prosecutorial tools to protect competition and prohibit Meta from continuing to block Canadians’ access to news content. The applicants also request that Meta refrain from discriminating, by algorithm or by any other means, against content from Canadian news organizations on its digital platforms accessible in Canada.”

This isn’t the first time. In February 2021, the Australian government under the Australian Labor Party did a similar type of legislation and Meta threatened to take similar action. However, unlike the Canadian government, the Australians reached a deal where Meta and Google made their own private deals with the country’s media companies.

Now Canadians and media companies wait. The Saskatchewan RCMP sent out an email saying they will work with the media to try to figure out a solution. Until then…? 

We all do quick checks of our favourite sources of news to find out about the latest trades with teams, major political situations but also finding out locally what is going on. Say if there is a situation like Swift Current RCMP had not too long ago warning of staying away from a certain neighbourhood, or maybe the City of Swift Current has some emergency situation like the immediacy of the recent flood or warning of road construction…Southwest Booster can’t get the info out other than Twitter/X. Now if you think, ‘well, why worry? Those agencies will just post their own notices.” 

Well, it may be possible but some of those agencies don’t have the budget, staff, technical know-how or maybe even the time to post something. And even if they do, someone the message maybe lost with all the other businesses and organizations out there. Sure bigger municipalities like the City of Swift Current or the Broncos have public relations experience but Facebook will become clogged with thousands of such notices. Those messages get lost. 

Media is a long trusted local source of news, something that will disappear with Meta. 

Yes, everything you wanted to know about Megan Markle and Prince Harry but were afraid to ask will be available, Swift Current AAA baseball or AAA Legionnaires… maybe not. 

In the meantime read your hard copies of your newspaper. Read it on-line, either the stories or the free PDFs and always support your local advertisers. 

Ryan Dahlman

Editor of Southwest Booster, General Manager, Editorial Director of Saskatchewan Newspapers, ANG