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Facebook to pay 14 Canadian publishers for certain news content published on its platform

Facebook Inc. on Tuesday unveiled a plan to pay some Canadian publishers for news stories on its platform, but experts say the move distracts attention from future regulatory efforts.

California tech giant Facebook said it would pay 14 publishers, including the National Observer, FP newspapers, Le Devoir, the Tyee and publisher of the Sun, undisclosed amounts to link to their articles on its COVID-19 and Climatology pages or other unspecified use cases.

Information innovation testing program agreements have also been made with Coast, Narwhal, Village Media, SaltWire Network, Sprawl, Discourse Media, Narcity, BlogTO and Daily Hive.

Facebook would not disclose the value or structure of the agreements, and would not say whether other publishers have been approached about the project. He says the program will be multi-year in scope and does not include payments for news links already posted to Facebook by publishers.

Industry watchers say deal makes money for media companies suffering for advertising, but think deal should be seen as a way for Facebook to get ahead of potential regulation in Canada without attacking to most of the criticism he faces on issues such as privacy concerns and the prevalence of misinformation on his platform.

“There are fundamental issues with Facebook and it glosses over all of that and makes it much, much less likely that Canadian officials will actually consider the possibility of regulating them in a way that will affect these much deeper issues,” Blayne said. Haggart, senior researcher at the Center for International Governance Innovation and associate professor of political science at Brock University.

These problems, he said, include “ubiquitous” surveillance practices, data collection strategies, non-cooperation with authorities, and a history of hosting disinformation and hateful content.

They came about as Canadian media companies saw their revenues soar and shifted much of the blame to big tech.

A 2018 report from the Canadian Media Concentration Project found that Google had half of the nation’s internet advertising market share in 2018, with Facebook at 27.3% and Bell, Torstar, Twitter and Postmedia at less than 2%. % each.

This equates to $ 3.8 billion in advertising revenue for Google, up from $ 2.8 billion in 2016.

Facebook made $ 2.1 billion in advertising in 2018, while Bell made $ 146 million, Torstar $ 120 million, Twitter $ 117.5 million, and Postmedia $ 116.4 million.

Meanwhile, the federal government is considering legislation that could force tech companies to pay for information on their platforms and impose penalties when problematic content is not removed quickly.

Other countries face similar considerations. Australia, for example, unveiled its intention earlier this year for social media companies to negotiate payments to publishers there.

Facebook responded by quickly blocking Australian users from posting or seeing links to local or international news websites, only to turn the tide within days.

In Canada, Facebook has pledged to spend at least $ 8 million over the next three years on journalism initiatives, including funding journalist scholarships to The Canadian Press and grants to media organizations run by black people. native or colored.

Facebook declined an interview on Tuesday to discuss its latest media efforts, but the company’s global director and head of public policy said in a statement that the program supports journalism and would allow the company “to join forces again. more closely with publishers to help them build Business Plans. ”

“It is only through communication and collaboration that we can move forward, and we look forward to continuing our work to promote a healthy information industry in Canada,” Kevin Chan said in an email.

Haggart, however, believes the heralded efforts continue to integrate Facebook into the media ecosystem and reinforce publishers’ reliance on a “single, alien and temperamental platform.”

Facebook said that in January 2021 alone, the platform and Google generated 24 million free pageviews for Village Media, which the publisher says is worth around $ 480,000.

“What’s good for Facebook becomes what’s good for Le Devoir, or Village Media or BlogTO or whatever and that’s what creates a challenge and distracts attention from the core issues,” Haggart said.

Instead of these voluntary deals that Facebook is offering to the media, he believes the company needs to be regulated much more than it is now and that authorities should pay more attention to the quality of information shared by the platform. form.

Daniel Bernhard, executive director of the media watch group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said he would like Facebook to be forced to strike a fair deal with publishers and if they fail to strike acceptable terms, move on to binding arbitration.

The proposal is reminiscent of what’s underway in Australia and prevents Facebook from unilaterally deciding how much to pay or offering publishers a “take it or leave it” deal, Bernhard said.

He said Facebook’s latest move was because governments have been slow to regulate tech companies.

“Hopefully regulators will be able to see the obvious self-interest of this move, which is clearly an attempt to try and get ahead of the regulation and say, ‘Don’t worry, nothing to do here.’ , said Bernhard.

“But I think they’ve actually proven even more powerfully… that publishers need to be paid a fair price for the use of their content from these trillion dollar US companies. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 25, 2021.