Now that Canada’s Bill C-18 has made its way through parliament and received royal assent, the battle of wills between the government and social media platforms is in earnest.
The regulations packaged into C-18 amount to little more than a shakedown of social media platforms on behalf of financially failing legacy media outlets. Social media platforms provide a service by linking to news stories, and the government absurdly wants to charge those platforms for providing that service. It’s a means of trying to subsidize unsustainable media outlets without spending tax dollars, and the social media platforms have had enough.
If the government thought that Meta was bluffing about blocking news links if the law passed, they were dead wrong. Meta will increasingly introduce blocked access to news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms in the coming months. Google has indicated that it is considering similar measures. More than 24 million Canadians use Facebook or Instagram, and Google has a market share of 92 percent as Canada’s favorite search engine. It will be devastating for media outlets large and small to lose access to these portals that are so important to Canadians.
While media channels need social media platforms to reach audiences, social media platforms don’t need media channels. News is about 3 percent of Facebook contents. Facebook users will hardly notice the loss of news links as they scroll down to view cat videos and photos of distant relatives. However, media outlets will feel the loss keenly. In this battle, the social media platforms have all the power. Government and older media outlets would do well to remember this.
What recourse will the government have if social media platforms continue to refuse to provide news links? Will it force them to carry content? Can a government force a company to provide a service if it does not want to?
Social media platforms sufficed when Australia introduced similar legislation. They don’t seem ready this time. The precedent is just too dangerous. More and more greedy governments will attack social media companies because they sense the opportunity to grab money. The companies realize this and draw their lines in the sand.
So, what does the future hold for media in Canada if social media companies give up and comply with C-18?
Small, independent outlets that don’t meet or don’t want to meet the criteria set for being compensated by social media platforms can be left in the dust.
We will see a small number of major media outlets dominate the news landscape. Legacy outlets will exhaust social media platforms as they deliver national level stories while ignoring minor local news items.
Older media outlets cling to an outdated and unsustainable business model. Subsidies will only buy them time at best. Notice how quickly Bell Media shut down radio stations and imposed layoffs, despite recently receiving subsidies. If the government steps in and forces social media platforms to bail out mainstream media, it will be no more effective in bailing them out than direct tax subsidies. However, by trying, terrible damage can be done to the national media industry.
If social media companies hold on and continue to refuse to pass on news links, the consequences for all media outlets will be dire. Canadians will have to search directly for news outlets and important stories will have a harder time reaching a broad audience. It will hurt old media outlets and destroy the smaller new outlets.
Independent media will be hit hard in both scenarios.
However, people are creative and independent media will find a way to survive. Email lists will become more important than ever as companies need to reach their subscribers directly and new ways to get stories out there will emerge. Social media is too volatile and changing too fast for the government to control, however much it would like it to be.
Legacy media outlets that prefer to specialize in taking grants rather than change their practices will eventually collapse and fade away. New and innovative companies will fill the gap. News will always be in demand, and agile companies will find ways to provide it profitably.
The battle created by Bill C-18 is pointless and destructive. While independent media will survive and eventually dominate the media landscape, Canadians will first have to go through a period of unreliable news access. Consumers and producers will suffer during this transition.
This conflict should never have happened, but now seems inevitable now that we have a proud government that refuses to admit that it made a mistake. Let’s all hope that the government can have a humble moment and take a step back this time.
The views expressed in this article are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.