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Facebook threatens to censor Canadian news due to proposed legislation

If Canadian lawmakers enact a law requiring Facebook to pay news organizations for their material, the firm may decide to restrict news sharing in the country (via The Wall Street Journal). Facebook's parent company, Meta, claims in a blog post published on Friday that the Canadian government's proposed Online News Act unfairly assumes that Facebook "profits from its relationship with publishers."

The Online News Act, first proposed in April, mandates that websites like Facebook and Google, which aggregate content from other publications, pay a portion of their advertising revenue to those original outlets. The bill intends to guarantee that media organizations receive adequate funding. Meta claims it wasn't invited to a meeting last week where the law was discussed by the Canadian House of Commons Heritage Committee.

If the name "News Media Bargaining Code" seems familiar, it's because Australia passed a law last year with almost similar provisions mandating that both Facebook and Google pay for news that appears on their platforms. This bill was enacted in Australia, but not without major protest from tech giants like Facebook and Google. As a result, Facebook disabled news sharing in the country, while Google threatened to stop serving the country's users altogether.

In contrast to Google, which switched course after making arrangements with media outlets, Facebook's decision to lift the prohibition on news articles was made after Australian lawmakers changed the law. The temporary embargo on news outlets also removed content from local government pages, including those for the fire department and the health department. A group of Facebook insiders leaked allegations earlier this year suggesting the move was a negotiating ploy; they said the company was trying to stir up trouble in the country by using an overly wide definition of what constitutes a news publisher. The corporation blames "inadvertent" causes for the chaos.

Now Facebook is ready to censor news in Canada if the country doesn't alter its regulations. According to Meta, news-related information "is not a pull for our users" and "is not a substantial source of money" on Facebook, making up less than three percent of the stuff users see.

Meta warns that "we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow the sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada as defined under the Online News Act" if the proposed legislation, which would impose "globally unprecedented forms of financial liability for news links or content," is enacted.

Meta also suggests that it is the news organizations that gain by posting their content on Facebook. Meta reported in May that Canadian news publishers who use their service saw over 1.9 billion clicks in the previous year, worth an estimated $230 million CAD. At the conference last week, Google also expressed its displeasure with the proposed legislation, stating that it "would make it difficult for Canadians to access and share credible and authoritative news online," despite the fact that publishers already benefit from the traffic they receive from Google.

The Canadian Minister of Heritage, Pablo Rodriguez, claimed in a statement obtained by the WSJ that Facebook "continues to pull from their playbook employed in Australia." According to Rodriguez, all that is being asked of tech firms like Facebook is that they negotiate fair terms with news outlets when the latter make money off of their work.