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The Online News Act: helpful or harmful to Canadian communicators?

Paige Hoveling is the President of IABC Maritime Canada. She is a communicator, housing industry advocate, and relationship builder.

If Canadian news content isn’t showing up on your social media or Google searches, you’re not alone. Digital giants like Meta and Google are reacting to Bill C-18, the Online News Act, which imposes regulations requiring these organizations to pay for linking and sharing Canadian media content. This is worrisome news for communicators who rely on paid and earned Canadian media content. With the spread of disinformation and misinformation online, limiting Canadian media content will spell trouble for Canadian communicators.

What is Bill C-18?

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, was introduced to Parliament as a way to protect Canadian media companies and ensure Canadians have access to local, fact-based news. The Bill, as it is written, would require large digital companies like Google and Facebook to negotiate deals to compensate Canadian media companies for linking to or sharing their content online. The goal is to level the playing field for Canadian news and media companies that currently compete for advertising dollars against large tech companies like Google and Facebook.

While Canadian media companies and the Federal Government are in support of the Bill, saying it will help Canadian news outlets compete with tech companies, large social media and digital organizations are pushing back. Much like the fall-out in 2021/22 when Australia passed similar legislation, tech giants including Meta and Google are now cutting off all Canadian news access on their platforms.

The truth of the matter: disinformation, misinformation, and the reliability of online sources for Canadians

We've already seen the spread of misinformation and disinformation online including spoofed ‘news’ sites, sharing posts from real or fake accounts, and videos from ‘experts’. This information has infiltrated the social media feeds of our audiences. In some cases, the information is harmless; sharing made-up claims of the dangers of something innocuous. In other cases, the information can cause real harm as we saw with the January 6 insurrection in the United States.

According to a 2019 poll from Historica Canada, more than half of Canadians surveyed said they’d read or shared information that later proved to be inaccurate. Only twelve per cent of the respondents got a perfect score when assessing what sources were based on facts and what were opinions.

Facebook Canada said that fewer than 3 per cent of content shared by users directly links to Canadian news sources. So, if there’s such a proliferation of incorrect information out there and Canadians are not linking and sharing news media content, should communicators care about C-18?

The short answer is, yes. As professional communicators, we have the potential to influence decisions that impact our organizations, our economies, and people’s lives. This comes with significant responsibilities including adhering to the IABC Code of Ethics. This code serves as a guide to making consistent, responsible, ethical, and legal choices in all of our communications. It includes the responsibility to communicate accurate information.

What this means for communicators Time + Space Media estimates that 80% of traffic to Canadian news sites comes from Google and Facebook. The consequences of the loss of this traffic are already being felt not just by Canadian news outlets but by communicators and advertisers. There are a few ways that Canadian communicators can adjust to this shift:

  • Changing the way we share Canadian media content on social

  • Ensuring our advertising agreements with Canadian media have specific methods to reach audiences that don’t include social

  • Being subject matter experts and creating the content to support that

  • Reassessing how we share and evaluate online information

As the Government of Canada and tech giants continue to negotiate what the final regulations will be, communicators are left to navigate this changing digital media landscape. As professionals dedicated to ethical and accurate communications, we should all be concerned about this. What we know is, if Canadians do not have access to quality, reliable, and fact-based news sources, the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation will increase.

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