Meta tests news-sharing limits in Canada in response to proposed "Online News Act"

In response to Canada's proposed "Online News Act", Meta Platforms is testing limitations on news content sharing on Facebook and Instagram for some users in Canada.
Daniel Lehewych

Meta Platforms Inc. (META.O), the tech conglomerate behind Facebook and Instagram, has announced a series of upcoming tests that will restrict the access and sharing of news content by specific users and publishers in Canada. As reported in Reuters, these trials, expected to last several weeks, directly respond to Canada's proposed "Online News Act."

Meta's Response Test

This legislation, presented in April last year, aims to compel tech giants like Meta and Alphabet Inc, Google's parent company (GOOGL.O), to strike commercial agreements and remunerate Canadian news outlets for their content.

Meta Platforms had forewarned in March that if the proposed law was ratified in its current form, they would cut off news content access for Canadians on their platforms. Therefore, as the testing period begins, Meta will inform the small fraction of Canadian users enrolled in this testing if they try to share news content.

Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, the bill's proponent, characterized these tests as "unacceptable." Speaking to Reuters, Rodriguez expressed his disdain, stating, "When a big tech company... tells us, 'If you don't do this or that, then I'm pulling the plug' – that's a threat. I've never done anything because I was afraid of a threat."

Google's Similar Strategy

These events resonate with Google's earlier endeavors this year, which entailed similar tests that blocked news content for a select group of Canadian users. This action was taken in anticipation of a potential response to the online news bill, commonly known as the "Online News Act," or House of Commons bill C-18.

"We're briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a tiny percentage of Canadian users. We run thousands of tests yearly to assess any potential changes to Search," a Google representative relayed in an email to Reuters. Google confirmed that these timed tests, impacting a random selection of less than 4% of Canadian users, "limit the visibility of Canadian and international news to varying degrees."

In response to Google's actions, a spokeswoman for Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez insisted that Canadians will not be intimidated. However, it was disappointing that Google appears to be taking a leaf from Meta's book.

As tech giants continue to grapple with the implications of the proposed "Online News Act," the coming weeks will reveal the full extent of these tests' impact on Canadians' access to news content. But, for now, users in the country can expect changes in how they engage with news on these popular platforms.

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