“Social Media Giants’ News Blockades Threaten Access to Vital Information During Natural Disasters”
– Massive wildfires in Northwest Territories and southern British Columbia highlight the importance of social media in accessing information during emergencies.
– Meta’s decision to block Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram raises concerns about corporate power and the need for regulation.
In recent events, wildfires in the Northwest Territories and southern British Columbia have once again emphasized the crucial role that social media platforms play in providing access to information during natural disasters. However, with Meta (formerly Facebook) blocking all Canadian news on Facebook and Instagram, those affected by the wildfires faced an additional obstacle in receiving timely updates. This move by Meta has been criticized by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who accused the company of prioritizing corporate profits over democracy and well-being.
Meta’s action can be seen as a “choke point” strategy, which is effective when companies have significant market share and provide critical services. In this case, the news ban is politically motivated, aiming to pressure the Canadian government into amending or repealing Bill C-18, the Online News Act. This legislation requires fair revenue sharing between digital news intermediaries like Google and Meta and news outlets. Similar requirements for revenue distribution have been implemented before, as seen in Australia when Facebook used news blockades to influence the Australian government’s News Media Bargaining Code.
The incident involving Meta’s news ban during a state of emergency highlights the arbitrary power of corporate entities. It also presents an opportunity to reflect on how we can regulate the power of tech companies and why Meta’s decision has significant implications for news media organizations and their users. Meta, along with Google, dominates the digital advertising industry and has established interdependent relationships with news organizations. However, this relationship is asymmetrical, with social media companies controlling advertising revenue flows and user engagement through secret algorithms that prioritize their commercial interests over those of news organizations or the public.
Furthermore, Facebook and Instagram possess the ability to create choke points not only as social media platforms but also as interfaces for accessing other websites and services on the internet. Facebook’s ambition to become an “everything” app raises concerns of anti-competitive behavior, similar to Tencent’s WeChat app in China. While it is possible to access news directly through media organization apps or websites, this goes against Meta’s carefully constructed social media empire.
Recognizing the market power wielded by social media companies and their ability to institute choke points that deprive others of revenue and audiences is crucial for designing effective regulation. It is essential to address the asymmetrical relationship between tech giants and news organizations to ensure fair revenue sharing and protect the public’s access to vital information during crises.