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Facebook faceoff: MPs confront Meta over its threat to block Canadians from sharing news – The Peterborough Examiner

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, issued a warning last week about Ottawa’s Bill C-18

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, issued a warning last week about Ottawa’s Bill C-18

Meta doubled down on its threat during a meeting of the House of Commons heritage committee.

By Raisa PatelOttawa Bureau

Fri., Oct. 28, 20224 min. read

OTTAWA—Meta faced a volley of questions Friday on whether its threat to block Canadians from sharing news on Facebook would worsen the spread of misinformation on social media, as the tech giant continued its attack on the government’s online news bill.

Last week, Facebook’s parent company issued a warning against Bill C-18, a proposed piece of legislation that would force tech giants like Facebook and Google to share part of the revenues they generate from linking news content on their platforms with the outlets that produced the stories. The bill is intended to assist Canada’s embattled journalism industry as digital giants sharing the content siphon off the majority of online ad revenues.

Addressing the House of Commons heritage committee this week, Meta doubled down on that threat.

“Faced with adverse legislation based on false assumptions that defy the logic of how Facebook works, and which, if passed, will create globally unprecedented forms of financial liability for news links and content, we feel it is important to be transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada,” said Kevin Chan, the multinational tech company’s global policy director.

Federal sources told the Star that while the move was “unfortunate,” they were “not surprised” by the warning because Meta made good on the same threat in Australia last year after that country introduced a similar law. The company reversed its decision after Australia’s treasurer agreed to amend the bill.

Unlike fellow tech giant Google, Meta had been relatively quiet about its concerns with C-18. In a blog post published last Friday, it revealed it was considering taking the extreme step for a number of reasons, including its assertion that Facebook delivered news publishers nearly two billion clicks – at a value of more than $230 million – between 2021 and 2022.

“Simply put, this is what it would have cost news publishers to achieve the same outcome on Facebook if that space wasn’t provided to them for free,” Chan said.

Chan argued the bill “unfairly subsidizes legacy media companies that have struggled to adapt to the online environment,” something he said would hurt competition, smaller digital news outlets and trust in the media.

Similarly to Google, Meta has also expressed concern over a section of the bill that would prevent platforms from giving “undue or unreasonable preference” to certain news content, essentially barring it from downranking lower quality content like misinformation.

But the NDP’s Alistair MacGregor grilled Meta about its own role in playing host to inaccurate content.

“I sit on the standing committee of public safety and national security. Earlier this year, we did a report on ideologically motivated violent extremism, and we heard some pretty damning testimony about the role that social media companies play, especially with misinformation, disinformation, and plain fake news,” MacGregor said.

“Are you seriously now considering making the situation worse by getting rid of credible journalism that is one of the bulwarks we have in a democratic society?”

Marc Dinsdale, Head of Media Partnerships at Meta Canada, instead said Facebook was home to “the world’s largest fact-checking network program.”

Committee members also referenced a report from the Wall Street Journal from this spring, which alleges that Facebook blocked news in Australia – including content related to government, health and emergency services – in a “strategic” effort to sway the country’s proposed legislation.

Citing “Facebook documents and testimony filed to U.S. and Australian authorities by whistleblowers,” reporters wrote that top executives praised team members on the approach after Australian parliamentarians voted to pass an amended version of the bill.

(Facebook said at the time that it “erred on the side of over-enforcement” and reversed changes that led to some content being “blocked inadvertently.”)

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather questioned the timing of Meta’s reversal, and asked whether Canadians could be assured “that the same situation won’t reproduce itself” here.

Dinsdale replied: “If the bill passes as it is proposed, and we are forced to consider this option … we would try to do it (with) as much consultation and transparency as possible. What that means, I certainly am not in position to elaborate, but I can certainly reiterate that any mistakes that were done in Australia were exactly that: mistakes.”

The heritage department has said it is open to making changes to the bill, and said Friday it looked forward to further discussions with the platform.

Friday’s meeting also devolved into quibbles over why MPs were only hearing from Meta now.

Housefather said he was informed by the committee’s clerk that the company never requested to speak about the bill, a claim Chan refuted when he said Meta previously sought an opportunity to appear.

Conservative committee vice-chair Kevin Waugh confirmed to the Star that his party did have Meta on one of its initial witness lists, though it appears the company did not make it on to the final roster.

On Tuesday, members agreed they should hold three additional meetings to hear from more witnesses, including voting unanimously for Meta to testify.

Last November, the company signed a multi-year deal with Torstar — which owns the Toronto Star — that saw Meta pay the publisher for the ability to post links to work produced by its publications. A number of other Canadian publishers are part of the program, which is called the News Innovation Test.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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