Canadians in wildfire ravaged areas can’t swap important and potentially life saving news stories on Facebook as a result of the country’s recently passed news link law.
There are plenty of examples of supposedly good ideas that had unintended consequences that were not so good. There are also plenty of examples of “good” ideas that weren’t good at all and should never have been implemented. The recent Canadian “link tax” law that went into effect on June 22, which requires major online publishers such as Facebook and Google that link to online news sites to pay those site for the links, fits both categories.
Yes, you have that right. Under the new law, if a Canadian searches Google for information and Google’s results include a link to a Canadian news site, Google has to pay that site for running the link and sending traffic its way.
The link law was passed as a well-intentioned attempt by the country’s federal government to help fund news gathering organizations (mainly take this to mean the old newspaper folks who now have a presence online) that have taken a huge financial hit since the internet came along, which some blame on profitable giants such as Facebook and Google.
Naturally, Google, Bing, Facebook, and the like think that’s kind of backwards logic that’s targeting them unfairly and have reacted. In Facebook’s case, since August 1 it no longer allows its users in Canada to post links to news sites.
Facebook’s reaction became an issue this week because of the wildfires ravaging the Northwest Territories and parts of British Columbia. With Facebook’s new policy in place, people have not being able to post links to news articles that might help friends or family members decide if they are in danger, or tell them about routes that are open and safe to travel if they need to evacuate.
This has a lot of Canadians upset, and has Canadian politicians reacting to the situation by placing the blame on Facebook instead of on their own boneheaded law. During a briefing on Friday, for example, Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez demanded that Meta “reverse its decision” and called the company’s actions “completely unacceptable.”
“Due to this ban, people do not have access to information that is absolutely crucial,” he said.
Actually, from where I sit, Facebook is blameless (which is something I never thought I’d hear myself say), and while Google probably shares a lot blame for news organizations’ financial plight, it’s not because of its search business or links, but because of its near monopoly in online advertising.
Common sense dictates that search links, or links to a news article from a social site, help the news site, since they generate traffic that can be monetized either through a paywall or by ads running on the news site.
The trouble is that any ads the news sites are running don’t pay diddly-squat, and the blame for that lies almost squarely on the shoulders of Google and a couple of other major players that monopolize online advertising, and which have turned online advertising into something of a one-size-fits-all proposition that’s based on minimizing price.
While I am loath to side with Zuckerberg on anything, I’m pretty much in his corner here. The Canadians need to rethink their approach and perhaps focus on the monopoly that Google and a few other companies have on online advertising, as well as the methods by which online ads are distributed.