I do not become involved in politics, period. Having lived a long life and seen lots, I have made this decision. But this post seems to me not really political but ethical and related to writing and writers: what is in the Bill C-18 that has Facebook and Google worrying?
It was on the news that Facebook considers Bill C-18 harmful to Canadian media companies because they will no longer be able to voluntarily share news articles to Facebook users who do not primarily come to the platform for news, thus decreasing their potential reader base. The Canadian government counters that, due to the dissemination of news on Facebook, 500 media outlets had to shut their doors and some 20k journalists lost their jobs. Who is telling the truth, and who is not?
Google has already retaliated by removing links to Canadian journalists.
Here is my take on this: everything on the Internet is a balance of effort and convenience. Like I had written, Internet has spoiled its users who have become lazy as well as addicted to certain platforms. Now, users want to browse only their favorite resource and get 100% of content from it, to save time and also filter deluge of advertising that drowns them, every time they venture out of the platform. I do not blame them! But we have all but stopped bookmarking sites and instead punch things into Google every time we need something, for crying out loud! What do you expect from a global search and media monopoly to which we hand the reigns and say: “Do whatever you want”, eh?
How hard is it to have a bunch of bookmarks to CBC, CTV, Global News, National Post, and bunch more? Yes, they are different. Yes, they have their own navigation and structure. But really, how easy does the life have to be, for our lazy bums to be satisfied? Are we really so lazy as to need Google for news?
I do not pretend to know the motivation of the Canadian government, which is behind their intent to introduce Bill C-18, nor do I really care. The back-and-forth between it and the media giants only strikes me as something controversial that neither side is willing to admit to. But let us look at this, from the business point of view:
Canadian government insists that Facebook and Google have to pay Canadian media outlets for their news. Facebook and Google refuse to pay.
What does this tell me? It tells me that the latter two profit unfairly from scrubbing original news and reposting them on their platforms, for free, and that the owners and creators of original news are so fed-up with that, that they have lobbied for the introduction of the bill. Unless of course the Canadian government is hell-bent on destroying Canadian news industry completely. This is not my opinion: this is a simple analysis of the statements of both sides of the issue. I do not have an opinion on this matter, not yet.
By removing links to Canadian news and journalists, Google retaliated. It is as harsh as it sounds. It is a declaration of informational war. Such action is never made lightly as it affects the company’s revenue that is based entirely on users’ clicks: fewer clicks means less revenue. If a company foregoes some revenue, then it has a very good reason for that: it expects to make more, at the end of the day. So, it is a war.
There is no question that Internet media exists if and only if there is freedom of speech and expression. But do Internet media giants live by this principle that they base their fortunes on? When Facebook or Google proceed to block Canadian news links, is this manifestation of freedom or dictatorship? Seeing how they strive to block links, it sounds that it is the latter. But how do they block them? The devil is in the details! Do they block actual raw URLs, such as http://www.something.somewhere, or do they block thumbnails that their platform generates from such links? This is a very important question! It seems to me that the kerfuffle is about the latter, not the former. The issue is that, over the past 5-10 years, platforms such as Meta’s or Alphabet’s, are no longer content with allowing users to exchange links among themselves. They go out of their way to introduce (and force upon its users) web server software that embeds a thumbnail with a picture and a snippet from the URL that the user pastes as a link into their posts or comments. And that thumbnail does actually represent a now-illegally scrubbed news article.
What is the intent of media outlets such as CBC or National Post when they put an article on their own web site? They want it to be read. How do they want it to be read? Probably by way of readers visiting their web sites. This would drive readers to more content that includes advertising. By scrubbing the gist of an article and displaying it on Facebook and Google, the latter deprive the origin of their revenue but earn themselves. Now, they have to pay, but they throw a tantrum and get their pants in the knot, and to me this is the clearest admission of their financial interest in having free access to the news: such companies never do anything, out of altruism.
But as a writer, I am primarily interested in human motives and behavior, laziness and greed being most powerful. I want to know whether we have become way too lazy to keep a bunch of bookmarks, as short as 3-4, to our favorite news outlets. Are we? When I search for any news article of interest to me (which happens often, when I write), a Google search usually returns a couple dozen nearly identical results. Why? Because the source of the actual news is usually single but a couple dozens of news outlets repost it, having only slightly altered the verbiage of it. If we read those 3-4 news sources, then we know everything. Unique news content very seldom appears outside of those favorite few.
So, instead of bemoaning the Bill C-18 and Facebook or Google news, store a handful of bookmarks. After all, aren’t you those who keep saying “Shop local”? And let the media giants and the government figure it out among themselves.