Meta has begun the process to end access to news on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada, it said on Tuesday, in response to a law requiring internet giants to pay news publishers. Lawmakers have pressured the company to compensate news outlets as advertising revenue declines. The company has been resisting the law, known as C-18, saying it is unfair to force them to pay for content they do not even own.
The company’s move has triggered a backlash from Canadian politicians and the country’s biggest media companies. The government quickly denounced the move as “irresponsible.” On Thursday, Quebecor Inc., the largest media group in Canada, announced it would pull its advertising from Meta’s platforms over the company’s refusal to comply with the law and negotiate commercial arrangements.
Canada’s heritage minister, Pablo Rodriguez, accused Meta of using its power to undermine democracy and a free press. He also promised the government would take action if the company ignored the law and threatened to suspend federal advertising on Meta’s platforms until the company resumed negotiations with Ottawa.
The government’s retaliation reflects the escalating tensions between large digital companies and many traditional journalism outlets over whether the latter are being paid enough for their content. In the United States, lawmakers are considering a bill requiring big digital platforms to pay news outlets for hosting their content. However, like Canadian law, it would only apply to companies with more than 50 million monthly active U.S. users or a billion worldwide.
In a blog post, Meta said the Canadian law was based on the “incorrect premise that Facebook and Instagram benefit unfairly from news content shared by our users.” It also claimed the new laws violated the free speech rights of its users and would hurt the company financially. Despite research showing the opposite, Meta has spent months speaking out against the law and claiming that its users do not come to its platforms for news.
A similar controversy is brewing in California, where lawmakers have proposed a law requiring digital platforms to pay for news articles if they are not original. The proposal has drawn opposition from many tech companies, including Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL.O) and Meta, who have vowed to remove California users from their services if the law passes.
A Meta spokesman said in an email that the company’s actions were in response to C-18 and would last for the rest of the month. He added that Meta was testing the impact of blocking news for some users to see if it affects traffic. The spokesman said the company had notified parliament that the test was taking place and would continue to notify users if any changes occur. “We believe that the best way to ensure transparency for our users is by letting them know about any changes to our product,” the spokesman said.