In a surprising turn of events, Meta’s decision to block news links in Canada this August seems to have had minimal impact on the usage of Facebook among Canadian users, as reported by independent tracking firms. Despite the scathing criticism the company is facing from the Canadian government for this move, data from digital analytics companies like Similarweb and Data.ai suggests that daily active users of Facebook in Canada and the time spent on the app have remained relatively unchanged since the news block was implemented.
Similarweb, a prominent digital analytics company known for its website and app traffic tracking, provided data, upon request from Reuters, which demonstrated that the user engagement metrics on Facebook have shown little variation since Meta initiated the news block in early August. Data.ai, another analytics firm, echoed this sentiment, indicating that their data also does not reflect any substantial changes in Facebook usage patterns in Canada for the month of August.
While these estimates are preliminary, they appear to align with Meta’s stance that news content holds limited value for the company. This perspective comes at a time when Meta is embroiled in a contentious standoff in Canada over a newly enacted law that mandates prominent internet companies like Meta and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, to enter into commercial agreements with Canadian news publishers for the use of their content.
The Online News Act, passed by the Canadian parliament in June, essentially requires Meta and Google to negotiate deals with Canadian news publishers to compensate them for their content featured on the platforms. Both Meta and Google have criticized the practicality of this law within the framework of their businesses. Meta, in particular, has asserted that news links constitute less than 3% of the content in its Facebook feeds and hold no significant economic value for the company. Interestingly, Meta declined to comment on these usage estimates.
This strategic shift aligns with Meta’s broader efforts to shift focus away from news and civic content on its platforms, seeking instead to prioritize lighter and more entertainment-oriented subjects like fashion, entertainment, and sports. This move has notably led to a marked decrease in news consumption through social media platforms, as highlighted in reports from the Reuters Institute and Pew Research Center.
Even prior to the news block in Canada, there had been a noticeable decline in Facebook referrals to popular Canadian news websites, with a reported drop of around 35% year-over-year in July and a substantial 74% decrease since 2020, according to Similarweb.
However, despite these efforts, Meta’s transparency reports indicate that news content remains highly popular on its platforms, particularly in the United States, the sole country for which Meta discloses its most frequently viewed content. The most recent report reveals that news websites accounted for 13 of the top 20 domains viewed on Facebook in the United States during the first quarter, with 18 of the top 20 individual links leading to news articles.
Notably, Meta’s other significant social media platform, Instagram, occupies a less prominent role in the news landscape due to its lack of support for links within individual user posts.
Meta’s decision to halt news sharing on its platforms in Canada coincided with Google’s plan to block news from its search results in the country once the new law takes effect. Canadian officials have criticized Meta’s move, accusing the company of employing brinkmanship by eliminating news from its platforms while Canada grapples with the pressing issue of wildfires and mass evacuations.
Despite these tensions, quiet negotiations between Meta and the Canadian government over the implementation of the new law continue. Specific guidelines for implementing the law are expected to be released by late December, prompting platforms to finalize their agreements with publishers.
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge, who assumed office after a cabinet shuffle in July, has engaged in discussions with both Facebook and Google. A spokesperson from Meta confirmed these talks. In response to the new online news law, the Canadian regulatory body responsible for its implementation has announced plans to establish a negotiation framework between news organizations and internet giants, with the goal of initiating mandatory negotiations by early 2025.
Meta’s decision to block news content in Canada has raised questions about the real impact of news on its platform’s usage and the effectiveness of government regulations in shaping the digital landscape. As the standoff continues and negotiations unfold, the outcome of this scenario will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications for both the media industry and the future of online content distribution.