The federal government is suspending advertising on Facebook and Instagram as tensions with tech giants rise, with the province of Quebec and the City of Montreal following suit within hours.
The three governments’ decision came Wednesday 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.
Heritage Minister Pablo 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 Wednesday.
“If the government and politicians don’t stand up against that kind of bullying or intimidation, who will?”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed his cabinet minister’s comments later in the day, calling Meta’s decision to block news “bullying.”
According to the heritage minister, the federal government spends about $10 million a year to advertise on the platforms, which he said will be reinvested in other ad campaigns.
The minister defended the controversial law fervently, speaking to the state of the news business in the country and the need to protect it.
“All these media (outlets) … that play a fundamental role on informing Canadians are gradually disappearing, leaving room for the extremes and also for disinformation. And I think that it’s bad news for our democracy,” he said.
Following Rodriguez’s announcement, Quebec Premier François Legault tweeted that the province is suspending advertising on Facebook and Instagram until Meta resumes talks about the implementation of the federal Online News Act.
“No company is above the law,” Legault tweeted in French.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante followed soon after, saying on Twitter that the city would stop advertising on Facebook in solidarity with media.
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.
But a spokesperson for Meta said the regulatory process won’t be able to address the changes the company wants to see.
“Unfortunately, the regulatory process is not equipped to make changes to the fundamental features of the legislation that have always been problematic, and so we plan to comply by ending news availability in Canada in the coming weeks,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
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.
Canada is not the only country going after tech giants to get them to pay news publishers a portion of their revenues. In the U.S., a bipartisan effort led by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Sen. John Kennedy is aiming to pass a similar bill.
In a statement provided to The Canadian Press, Klobuchar panned the tech giants and called for resistance.
“Of course monopolies will fight us every step of the way, but we won’t back down — we must stand up for small businesses and competition while ensuring people have access to their local news,” Klobuchar said in the statement.
Groups representing broadcasters and newspapers applauded the federal government for the move, while media companies have 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.
Cogeco, which owns and operates 21 talk and music radio stations across Quebec, also announced on Wednesday it will be pulling ads off the platforms.
“Cogeco also calls on all levels of government to follow suit and temporarily stop investing in advertising on Meta platforms,” the company said in a statement.
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.”
Nojoud Al Mallees and Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2023.
Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.