Cory Morgan: The Battle Created by Bill C-18 Is Pointless and Destructive, and Didn’t Need to Happen

Cory Morgan: The Battle Created by Bill C-18 Is Pointless and Destructive, and Didn’t Need to Happen
A 3D printed logo of Facebook's parent company Meta is seen in front of the Google logo in a illustration on Nov. 2, 2021. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
Cory Morgan

Now that Canada’s Bill C-18 has made its way through Parliament and has received royal assent, the battle of wills between the government and social media platforms begins in earnest.

The regulations packed into C-18 amount to little more than a shakedown of social media platforms on behalf of financially failing legacy media outlets. Social media platforms provide a service in linking to news stories, and the government absurdly wants to charge those platforms for providing that service. It’s a means to try and subsidize unsustainable media outlets without having to spend tax dollars, and social media platforms have had enough.

If the government thought Meta was bluffing about blocking news links if the bill goes through, they were sorely mistaken. Meta will be phasing in blocked access to news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms increasingly over the next few months. Google has indicated it’s considering similar action. Over 24 million Canadians use either Facebook or Instagram, and Google holds a 92 percent market share as Canada’s preferred search engine. It will be devastating for media outlets large and small to lose access to these portals that are so important to Canadians.
While media outlets need social media platforms to reach audiences, social media platforms don’t need media outlets. News makes up about 3 percent of Facebook’s content. Facebook users will hardly notice the loss of news links as they scroll on to watch cat videos and pictures from distant relatives. Media outlets will keenly feel the loss, though. In this battle, the social media platforms have all the leverage. Government and legacy media outlets would be well served to remember this.

What recourse will the government have if social media platforms continue to refuse to carry news links? Will it force them to carry content? Can a government compel a business to provide a service if it doesn’t want to?

Social media platforms complied when Australia brought in similar legislation. They don’t appear ready to do so this time. The precedent is just too dangerous. More and more greedy governments will start hitting up social media companies as they smell the opportunity for a cash grab. The companies realize this and are drawing their lines in the sand.

So, what does the future look like for media in Canada if social media companies give up the fight and comply with C-18?

Small, independent outlets that don’t or won’t meet the criteria set to be compensated by social media platforms could be left in the dust.

We will see a small number of large media outlets dominating the news landscape. Legacy outlets will drain social media platforms while providing stories on a national note, while small local news items are ignored.

Legacy media outlets are holding onto an outdated and unsustainable business model. Subsidies will only buy them time at best. Note how quickly Bell Media shut down radio stations and imposed layoffs despite recently taking subsidies. Having the government intervene and force social media platforms to bail out mainstream media outlets won’t be any more effective in saving them than direct tax subsidies are. Terrible damage can be done to the national media industry in trying, however.

If social media companies hold fast and continue to refuse to carry news links, the consequences for all media outlets will be dire. Canadians will have to directly seek out news outlets and stories of importance will have a tougher time trying to reach broad audiences. It will harm legacy media outlets, and the smaller new outlets will be devastated.

Independent media gets hit hard in either scenario.

People are creative, however, and independent media outlets will find a way to survive. Email lists will become more important than ever as companies need to reach their subscribers directly and new ways of getting stories out will evolve. Social media is too fluid and fast-changing for the government to control no matter how hard it may wish to.

Legacy media outlets that would prefer to specialize in taking subsidies rather than change their practises will eventually collapse and fade away. New and innovative enterprises will fill the void. There will always be a demand for news, and flexible companies will find ways to profitably provide it.

The battle created by Bill C-18 is pointless and destructive. While independent media will survive and eventually dominate the media landscape, Canadians will have to go through a period of unreliable news access first. Consumers and producers will suffer during this transition.

This conflict never needed to happen, but seems unavoidable now as we have a prideful government that refuses to admit making an error. Let’s all hope the government can have a humble moment and back down this time.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.