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Canada’s Online News Act will hurt smaller communities first, expert warns

The Liberal government’s Online News Act could hit those in smaller Canadian communities particularly hard, according to a communications expert.

The bill, C-18, was passed last week and will kick into effect by the end of the year. It will require tech companies like Google, Meta, and other platforms, to pay Canadian media outlets to display their stories. Google and Meta have both stated that they will block Canadian news when the bill comes into effect.

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Peter Chow-White, a communications professor at Simon Fraser University, says if attitudes do not change, smaller communities will be the first to suffer.

“Community media tend to get hurt the most and the fastest, because resources are small, the need for that information for local council meetings and things like that is high, and the large media operations don’t usually cover those things at the very local level. So it could create a further crisis at those local levels,” he told CityNews.

That point could be especially demonstrated during times of crisis, where people will often look to social media as a starting point for information.

“We need information immediately, we need accurate information that can help us navigate a crisis,” he explained.

“We tend to go to Twitter right away, or Facebook, or these social media streams because we’ve gotten used to going there and searching for things through those portals.”

Chow-White points out that the large media companies that the bill is aimed toward, have been operating in Canada and other countries with little oversight for the past 15 years.

“They’re not Canadian companies. They’re not part of our national context in that sense. We’re just another jurisdiction for them. And because we’re not a particularly large jurisdiction, they can use this incredibly strong rhetoric, and quite undemocratic rhetoric in terms of access to information,” he said.

“They’ve been able to mine our data and populate our feeds and control what we see in our feeds with their algorithms with impunity. And that’s created a context where we can’t be entirely certain of what kind of information we’re seeing or even what our partners beside us on the sofa at home are seeing, and it’s created a time of misinformation.”

However, Chow-White doesn’t anticipate a complete blackout for Canadian media once the bill comes into effect.

“There may be a period of time where they do shut off the valve. But I’d be surprised if that continued in a complete blackout situation. I think you’ll see some sort of conversations, especially with local media companies, as that goes on,” he said.

Earlier this week, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez told The Canadian Press he is hopeful that the government will come to a positive resolution with the tech companies to prevent them from removing news.

Rodriguez also said his government will continue to support newsrooms if Google and Meta pull news from their platforms, though he did not say exactly how that will be done.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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