Tech giant Meta has learned from the mistakes it made blocking online news from Facebook in Australia, when it accidentally limited access to emergency services pages, a company representative said Monday.
Rachel Curran, head of public policy for Meta Canada, said the company has put together a content-blocking team that is getting ready to end the availability of news on its social media platforms Facebook and Instagram should the Liberal government’s online news bill pass.
Curran told the House of Commons heritage committee the company will remove news in a way that is careful, responsible and transparent.
“It’s absolutely our intention to not make the same errors in Canada that we made in Australia,” Curran said Monday.
In 2021, Facebook temporarily blocked Australians from sharing news stories in response to a government bill that asked Google and Facebook to contribute to journalism.
Australian news organizations could not post stories and people who tried to share existing news stories received notifications saying they were blocked from doing so. It had also blocked some government communications, including messages about emergency services, and some commercial pages.
“Some of the things that were mistakenly scoped in Australia, we’re working very hard to make sure we do not do that this time,” said Curran, who was a policy director to former prime minister Stephen Harper.
She said the team is working to meet the definition of news, and not apply any potential blocks to government pages, emergency services or community organizations.
If passed, Bill C-18 would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.
The bill is currently at the committee stage in the Senate.
Meta has previously said it could lead the company to stop linking to news in Canada.
The company says less than three per cent of what people see in their Facebook feeds are posts with links to news articles and that many of its users believe that is already “too much” news.
The Liberal government has accused Meta of intimidating Canadians as a way to retaliate over regulation.
During the committee meeting, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner said if journalism is blocked from Instagram and Facebook then people will be forced to seek out information elsewhere and it could lead to a rise in misinformation and disinformation.
But the tech giant said it’s a business decision.
“We believe that news has a real social value. The problem is that it doesn’t have much of an economic value to Meta. That’s the real concern with this legislation,” Curran said.
“So if we are being asked to compensate news publishers for material that has no economic value to us, that’s where the problem is.”