Canadian Art Institutions Weigh Facebook Ads Amid Government Ban

Canada’s move to halt advertising on Facebook and Instagram amid tense negotiations with tech giants Meta and Alphabet could impact the reach of national arts and cultural institutions. Last month, the Canadian government passed the C-18 Online News Act, to be implemented at the end of the year. The law will require the parent companies of Facebook and Google to share a portion of advertising revenue with local media outlets.

“Canada is going to continue to stand firm and ensure that if social media platforms and internet giants want to use media, that they actually ensure that they’re paying their fair share for it,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said earlier this month in Montérégie, Quebec, according to Reuters.

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Hugo Couturier, director of communications and partnerships for the Montréal Arts Council, told Hyperallergic that the organization has suspended its advertising on all Meta platforms. The agency provides funding and support for Montreal’s art programs and events. Couturier added that the advertising halt was initiated on July 6 and will continue for an indefinite period of time in solidarity with media as a whole.

“Like other levels of government and public authorities, such as the City of Montréal, we believe that we must show our collective will, as the Canadian government is proposing with Bill C-18, to distribute more equitably the revenues generated by journalistic content on social networks,” Couturier said.

“In a democracy like ours, credible, plural media voices offering relevant, in-depth content are priceless. And it’s fundamental for the deepening and recognition of artists’ work,” Couturier continued.

But not everyone agrees that boycotting Facebook is the right move. Last week, a motion to suspend non-critical ad campaigns on Meta platforms failed to pass at Ottawa City Council by a single vote. Dan Chénier, general manager of the city’s Recreation, Cultural and Facility Services Department, said the advertising can be a lifeline for arts venues like theaters, where “using Facebook to promote things that are underselling … shows immediate and very positive results,” he told CTV News.

In an early July press conference, Minister of Canadian Heritage Pablo Rodriguez emphasized that the government’s goal is to both stimulate Canada’s news economy while also promoting journalistic regulation, estimating that C-18 will bring in $329.2 million to the Canadian news industry. State governments around the world have tried to implement similar regulations on social media companies, including Australia, where a partial deal was struck with Facebook in 2021. In California, Assembly Bill 886, introduced this year, would require Google and Facebook to pay for news stories shared on their platforms.

“The status quo is not working,” Rodriguez said during the conference. “All Canadians want is for these platforms to contribute their fair share — not more, not less, just what’s fair.”

C-18 comes on the heels of another bill targeting tech titans that could potentially affect Canadian film creators. C-11, otherwise known as the Online Streaming Act, became law in April, compelling streaming services including Disney+, Netflix, and Amazon Prime to share their platforms with Canadian content and provide annual subsidies to local media. The law imposes regulations similar to those already supervising the country’s television networks.

In an Ottawa joint press conference with the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Peter Julian and the Bloc Québécois’s Martin Champoux on Wednesday, July 5, the Heritage Minister noted that nearly 500 local news media outlets including radio stations, newspapers, and TV stations have shut down over the last few years, in his view jeopardizing journalistic integrity and Canadian democracy at large. Meanwhile, he also decried the fact that 80% of all 2022 ad revenue from Canadian media outlets went to both Meta and Alphabet, totaling nearly C$10 billion (~$7.5 billion).

In response to the C-18’s passing, both Meta and Alphabet have threatened to cut off news access for Canadian users on Facebook, Instagram, and Google. Meta published a press release at the beginning of June confirming that the platform will end all news availability on both Facebook and Instagram for Canadian users prior to the law taking effect. On June 29, President of Global Affairs for Google and Alphabet Kent Walker called C-18 “unworkable” and announced the “unfortunate news” that the internet search engine will “remove links to Canadian news from our Search, News, and Discover products in Canada” later this year. In 2022, the majority of Alphabet’s $60 billion profit came from advertising. 

The moves from the two tech giants triggered the government’s most recent call to suspend its advertisements on both Meta’s platforms — a choice that would cost Facebook’s parent company millions in ad revenue, Politico reports.

Rodriguez called Meta’s decision to block news access “unreasonable” and “irresponsible,” but added that he hopes the company will continue to negotiate with the government to find a path forward. 

“The reality is the web giants need to respect Canadian law, they need to respect Canadian democracy, and that is the profound message we are sending today to Meta and Google,” Julian said to the press.


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