Facebook relative accused of ‘robber-baron’ tactics in Canada

Facebook parent company Meta has been accused of using ‘robber-baron’ tactics in Canada by threatening to block news feed sharing if Ottawa legislates to force it to pay media outlets for their contents.

The charge was made by the Liberal MP Chris Bitlet during a parliamentary hearing on Friday.

Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Lisa Hepfner also subjected the head of Meta Canada Media Partnerships, Marc Dinsdale, and the director of global policies, Kevin Chan, to difficult questions.

But Meta had an ally in the Tory MP Rachel Thomas who has sought, on numerous occasions, to raise points of order in a vain attempt to bail out those responsible for Meta.

Bittle, in particular, was pretty fierce, asking Dinsdale if Meta, Facebook’s parent company, intended to cut off vital information from Canadian citizens like it did in Australia. He accused Meta of having no respect for the parliamentary process.

This was after Housefather pointed out that the Australian action had been taken after a number of NDAs were signed by Facebook employees in Australia. When asked about this, Dinsdale did not offer a straight answer.

As iTWire reportedDinsdale had warned in a blog post on Friday that “in the face of adverse legislation based on false assumptions that challenge the logic of how Facebook operates, we believe it’s important to be transparent about the possibility that we may be forced to consider whether we continue to allow sharing of news content in Canada”.

He claimed Facebook was never asked to give his views on Canadian law. But Housefather raised doubts whether Dinsdale or anyone else at the company had contacted the head of the committee investigating the law to schedule an appearance. Again, Dinsdale did not answer the question directly and this pattern continued throughout the session.

In 2021, when the Australian government tried to push through a news media trading code, digital platforms, primarily Facebook and Google, lined up in opposition.

The code is derived from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Digital Platforms Inquiry Report which was delivered to the government in June 2019.

Negotiations between digital platforms and news organizations have continued for some time, with provisions of the code being enacted in February 2021.

But there was a lot of resistance from digital platforms and although Google took a more muted stance, Facebook upped the ante and blocked the entry of news content in Australia.

The government leaning back Facebook and made numerous changes to the legislation, after which the social media company reversed its content blocking.

Housefather also noted that Facebook was very quick to restore all streams as soon as Australian law changed to meet its requirements.

Most of the questions were directed at Dinsdale – Chan’s attempts to intervene were cut short – but he generally sidestepped the questions.

When Bittle asked Chan if Meta also intended to threaten people in the United States the same way he had threatened Canadians, the attorney had no response. A bill similar to the one introduced in Ottawa is making its way through the US Congress.

Last year the the wall street journal published a series of articles called The Facebook Files, based on internal company documents, research reports, online employee discussions and draft presentations to senior management.

Canadian MPs made a number of references to this investigation during their toasting of Dinsdale and Chan.


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