We were warned. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is now actively blocking Canadian news on its social media platforms. The CBC, Global News, The Toronto Star. All blocked. And, not least, the Picton Gazette.
Why did one of the world’s richest companies decide to start censoring professional news reporting?
It doesn’t like the fact that after making money from the work of Canadian journalists and reputable news agencies for almost 17 years, Canadian law now requires that they be paid for it. Meta wants to have its cake and eat it too – it wants to circulate and make money from the latest news, but is unwilling to provide the financial resources to ensure it is sustainable.
But, you will say. Don’t newspapers choose to post their content on Facebook and Instagram? Why should they be able to use social media tools for free and then expect payment for things that they chose to share? Isn’t that also a form of having your cake and eating it too?
No, it isn’t.
What newspapers are doing on social media is the same thing they do with their print editions. Many titles have long histories of distributing copies, often free of charge, to local coffee shops, libraries and seniors’ residences in order to improve access to their content and to keep people informed of the important community news of the week. This newspaper, the Picton Gazette, is distributed free of charge to 12,000 households across the County. The paper gets readers and its advertisers get noticed. Such tactics have become the norm in a world where the news is, apparently, free.
Now, imagine that someone named Fark Muckerberg took his copy of the newspaper and made thousands of copies and then sold them —and kept everything he earned. That doesn’t seem right, does it? Well, that’s exactly what Facebook, Instagram and Google do when they sell ads based on the traffic that quality journalism brings to their sites.
We’ve heard the objection that Facebook and Instagram deliver readers to news sites. And they do. But they also reap all the advertising revenue this process generates. Advertisers have flocked to Google’s search engine and to social media. Both employ extraordinarily powerful computer algorithms and reach huge audiences. That leaves news agencies supplying critical, meaningful content to Meta and Google for free.
As a result, they are all going underwater extraordinarily quickly. The pace of newspaper decline has been steady since about 2005. Advertising revenues sink lower every single year. Every single news organization in the country has cut staff in order to stay afloat. Hundreds are permanently out of business. Just ten years ago, the Picton Gazette published two issues a week. It’s incredible to think of that now.
Rather than help to support democracy and civic inclusion, as well as prevent the growth of unchecked misinformation on their platforms, the online giants place profits ahead of what’s best for communities they do not so much serve as rob. Global monopolies profit from both local communities and news organizations, without regard for the damage they do or the “news deserts” and fake-news junkies they leave behind.
The plight of the news perhaps pales in significance when compared to the devastation wrought on the planet by capital operating without limit. But both are the effects of the same force. News deserts. Fire-ravaged forests, islands, mountains. Unbearable heat. It’s what comes of putting profit ahead of every other consideration.
There is a slender hope that these giant monopolies might discover how important the presence of local news on their sites is to them. Readers may begin to look elsewhere for real journalism and Canadian news. We hope so. We encourage you to find and bookmark the sites where you like to get news and follow stories. Download the apps associated with these sites. Check them regularly. Subscribe to e-newsletters, and get the news delivered straight to your inbox. Cut out these rapacious middlemen.
Our website, pictongazette.ca, features all the stories that circulate on social media and Google, only without the middleman. And just like Facebook, if you check back often you’ll find new stories. And of course, you can always get your news from the print edition, which is delivered to you each week. If you don’t get the print edition delivered, rest assured we are working on that.
Those who have chosen to make a career in journalism and newspapers understand the duty they have to keep their communities informed, to ensure that those with power don’t abuse it and to create a sense of belonging and pride in the places they call home. They cannot do it for free, and they shouldn’t have to sit by while others earn money from their passion and efforts — all the while insisting they will contribute nothing to the cost of its creation. That is akin to thinking that as long as we pay for groceries at the store, the farmers can starve.
In the world that Facebook, Instagram and Google are creating, everyone will starve.
– Gazette Editorial Board, with files from Gordon Cameron, president and interim executive director of the Ontario Community Newspapers Association.