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Canadian government drops ads on Facebook, as Meta promises to block news

Feds also stopping advertising on Instagram as Online News Act fallout continues
Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez speaks during a news conference on Bill C-18, the Online News Act, along Bloc MP Martin Champoux, right, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The federal government will stop advertising on Facebook and Instagram, Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez announced Wednesday, as tensions rise between the Canadian government and tech giants.

The decision came after Meta promised to block Canadian news content on its Facebook and Instagram platforms in response to Canada’s recently passed Online News Act.

The new law will require tech giants pay media outlets for content they share or otherwise repurpose on their platforms.

Rodriguez blasted Meta for choosing not to negotiate with the federal government and instead blocking content for some users as part of a test.

“Facebook has decided to be unreasonable, irresponsible, and started blocking news. This is why today, we are announcing the government of Canada will be suspending advertising on Facebook and Instagram,” Rodriguez said.

He said the federal government spends about $10 million in advertisements on the platforms, which he said will be reinvested in other ad campaigns.

Google has also promised to start blocking Canadian news when the bill comes into force in six months, but Rodriguez said the government is in talks with the company and believes its concerns will be managed by the regulations that will come to implement the bill.

“Today, we’re calling on both platforms to stay at the table, work through the regulatory process with us, contribute their fair share and keep news on their platform,” Rodriguez said.

The bill will come into force in just under six months, giving the federal government time to decide on how it will proceed with regulations.

MPs from the Bloc Québécois and the NDP, which both backed the legislation, joined the Liberal minister at a press conference on Wednesday.

“The web giants need to respect Canadian law. They need to respect Canadian democracy. And that is the the profound message that we are sending today to Meta and Google,” said NDP MP Peter Julian.

Media companies have also begun pulling advertising from some social media platforms and telling readers and viewers how to access news directly.

News and telecommunications company Quebecor Inc. announced Wednesday it would immediately withdraw advertising from Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms.

“Any move by Meta to circumvent Canadian law, block news for its users or discriminate against Canadian media content on its platforms, through its algorithms or otherwise, cannot be tolerated,” Quebecor said in a press release.

Quebecor said it is pulling ads from Meta because of the company’s “categorical refusal” to enter into negotiations around compensating media companies.

Quebecor owns telecommunications company Videotron as well as TVA Group, which includes the TVA television network, specialty channels and magazines. It also owns the Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec newspapers.

In addition to posting content on Meta’s platforms, it has sometimes bought ads on Facebook and Instagram.

For example, the Facebook ads library linked to Quebecor’s TVA Nouvelles showed the brand had bought ads showcasing its 2022 election coverage, while Le Journal de Québec recently ran an ad with Tourisme Isle-aux-Coudres.

Hours after Quebecor announced it would pull its Meta ads, Quebec Premier François Legault said that “what we had hoped for is that these platforms pay the media companies” that develop news.

“Now, they decided to remove the content. Now, our responsibility is to continue these negotiations,” he said in Quebec City.

“We have to recognize where Quebecers are, where Quebecers get their news. It’s a new reality but we haven’t reached the step of boycotting, not yet.”

Before Legault spoke, CBC News’s editor-in-chief, Brodie Fenlon, released an article describing how he was unable to see posts on the brand’s Instagram page, which now has a note saying the content is being blocked “in response to Canadian government legislation. “

“Nonetheless, we know large numbers of Canadians rely on Google and Meta to discover our news coverage,” Fenlon wrote.

“If those sources suddenly cut off access to our news, as Meta did for some Instagram users this week, then we want to ensure Canadians know where to go to find our journalism elsewhere.”

He then listed a variety of ways CBC content could be accessed independent of Meta and Google, including on the company’s news and streaming apps, websites, televisions, radios, newsletters, YouTube and voice assistants like Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

“Wide access to independent fact-based journalism is a pillar of any healthy democracy and we aim to be anywhere people are looking for news,” Fenlon wrote.

“If third-party platforms independently decide to get out of the news business, for whatever reason, rest assured we will help you find our journalism and make it as easily accessible to you as possible.”

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