Liberals say Facebook's threat to pull news could jeopardize Canadians' safety

Estimates suggest that Google and Meta could fund 30 percent of news production costs in Canada

OTTAWA — Parliamentary secretary of the Ministry of Heritage accused Facebook of threatening the safety of Canadians, after the company said it could pull news from its platform if forced to share revenue with news publishers.

"Facebook has stepped up again to threaten the well-being of Canadians, to threaten our safety, to threaten our information online," Chris Bittle, parliamentary secretary for Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, told reporters Tuesday.

Bill C-18, targeted at Google and parent company Facebook Meta, would force the tech giant to strike commercial deals with news publishers, under threat of mandatory arbitration. The two companies could eventually fund 30 percent of the cost of producing news in Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimates.

Google has pushed for amendments to the law, and Meta has threatened to pull news from its platform in Canada, repeating the statement in a parliamentary committee Friday.

“Facing adverse legislation based on false assumptions that defies the logic of how Facebook works, and which, if passed, would create an unprecedented form of financial liability globally for news links and content, we feel it is important to be transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow sharing of news content on Facebook in Canada,” said Meta's director of global policy, Kevin Chan.

Meta has followed up on removing news from Facebook previously, doing so during the week after Australia passed legislation similar to last year's C-18.

Bittle said in Australia that the company initially “threatened to take down the news site, but instead of removing the news site, they blocked it excessively. They brought down tens of thousands of other organizations, such as vaccine sites, search and rescue, fire services, Holocaust Warning sites.”

He said "for Facebook to come back and say that we anticipate doing the same thing again in Canada is what raises the alarm for me that they will threaten the well-being and safety of Canadians."

Bittle also took aim at the Conservatives, accusing the party of being "so eager to oppose without a solution that they stood up to defend Facebook because Facebook threatens Canada."

During a recent Legacy committee meeting where representatives of Facebook and Google appeared, Conservative lawmakers' questions against the tech giant were less challenging and aggressive than Liberal questions, for example, asking companies to outline anti-C-18 arguments. At a committee meeting last Friday, Conservative heritage critic Rachael Thomas accused Bittle of "beating" Chan during his interrogation and asked the committee chair to step in and set aside Bittle's statement.

Committee chair and Liberal MP Hedy Fry refused to do so, saying Bittle "became very aggressive in his interrogation" but not "totally disrespectful of witnesses."

Thomas accused Fry of “operating in a somewhat discriminatory manner,” saying “there were times where you chased me for the exact same behavior that Bittle is doing right now. In fact, I wasn’t actually as vile as he was.”

Bittle said Tuesday that the Conservatives "stand shoulder to shoulder and act as Facebook's PR team, standing by to protect them from tough questions." He said the Conservatives should work alongside the Liberals, given their promise to introduce a similar law in the last election.

The Conservative Party platform from 2021 promises “a digital media royalty framework to ensure that Canadian media outlets are fairly compensated for sharing their content by platforms like Google and Facebook” that “combine the best practices of jurisdictions such as Australia and France.”

During Tuesday's questioning period, Rodriguez also accused Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus of asking a question that sounded as if it was written by the web giant. "He's just repeating messages from Facebook and other web giants," Rodriguez said in French in response to a question about "inflationary" government spending.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post