Minister Slams Facebook Over ‘Threat’ to Ban News Content in Canada

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez on Wednesday knocked Facebook parent Meta for not taking a platform-wide ban on viewing and sharing news in Canada off the table — reports The National Post.

Earlier this month, the Liberal government announced the Online News Act, known as Bill C-18, to force online giants like social media apps to pay Canadian news media and journalists for sharing links to news stories.

Bill C-18 is modelled after a similar legislature introduced in Australia last year, in protest of which Facebook enforced a ban on viewing and sharing news posts on its platform in Australia.

Rodriguez’s comments came after an executive for Meta Canada said at a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that the company had not ruled out a matching response in Canada to Bill C-18.

“They made the same threat in Australia and at the end of the day they stayed,” Rodriguez told reporters Wednesday before the Liberal caucus meeting. Facebook ultimately lifted the ban after it reached an agreement with the Australian government to alter some of the terms of the law. “It wasn’t well received by the Australian people, and I don’t think it would be well received by the Canadian people.”

The federal government announced its support for Australia against Facebook at the time, and it was then that the idea of making Facebook, Google, and other online platforms pay to republish news content started to gain traction in Canada.

Facebook also hinted at blocking news content in Canada last year when reports that Ottawa would require it to share its revenue with publishers started to emerge.

“What we’re saying here is that journalism has a value,” added Rodriguez. “Platforms benefit from that. It’s only fair that they compensate the newsrooms.”

Rachel Curran, an executive for Meta Canada, was asked directly at the Commons public safety committee on Tuesday if a ban on news content had been ruled out.

“We are still looking at all of the options based on our evaluation of the legislation,” Curran replied. Curran added that Meta was unaware of the “scope” of Bill C-18 until it was tabled and that it had “some pretty serious concerns.”

The Meta exec also alleged that the company was “not consulted” on the contents of Bill C-18. Rodriguez said this was not true.

“They lied,” he told reporters in French. “Facebook yesterday in the committee said they had not been consulted, which is not true.”

The Canadian Heritage Minister said he had personally met Meta on February 10 and that his staff spoke with the company regularly. Rodriguez said parliamentary procedure prevents the contents of a bill from being disclosed before it is tabled in the House of Commons, but he said Meta was consulted along with other social media platforms.

“For us, it is a simple principle. The door is open. We are ready to discuss,” he said.