“People in Canada can’t see this content” is one of the most seen phrases on social media these past few weeks. So, let’s back up and explain what this means. In June of 2023, Canada’s Government passed Bill C-18, or the Online News Act — a law that aims to give news organizations in Canada their fair share of revenue from social media platforms in hopes of sustaining Canada’s access to quality news. American tech companies Meta and Google have both openly rejected and denounced the bill’s regulation. In response to the bill, Meta has removed news links and restricted news organizations from posting on both Facebook and Instagram. Google has stated the bill “remains unworkable” for them and committed to removing Canadian news links from Google search.
Over the past few months, journalists, news organizations, and readers have been faced with the struggle of what this bill means for Canada. Global News Online and 630 CHED journalist Stephanie Swensrude believes Bill C-18 puts big tech in power and Canadian journalists at a disadvantage. “All of us are really at the mercy of the government,” she says. “No one really wins except for the big companies.”
For readers, the bill and the following responses have severely impacted the amount of accessibility and freedom surrounding online stories. The Gateway’s Editor-in-Chief Katie Teeling admits, “as a person who reads the news, it’s taken away this area where I relied so heavily on my news. Now I’m restricted to less news than I was before.” The other big issue with these restrictions is that, unlike print media, social media’s crucial role in society right now is also changing and affecting readers’ lifestyles. “Personally, I like getting news on social media…I follow a bunch of different organizations on Instagram, so to not have that is a little bit alarming,” the Nugget Editor-in-Chief and Vice-President of the Canadian University Press (CUP) Amy St. Amand says.
As well as the readers, Bill C-18 puts reporters in the crossfire of Meta’s rules against the practice of news sharing. Journalists depend on other news sources and organizations to fuel the passion for stories and maintain our sense of community — and that’s the key that has been missing since this bill was put in place. It doesn’t just affect the people on the inside of the news; it affects the readers as well. “This is removing the voice of millions of people,” Teeling says. “I just feel like…in hindsight, it’s only going to hurt Canadians. And that’s the worst part.”
If you’ve been on any of the Canadian news organizations’ Instagram pages lately, you might be familiar with seeing the alert: “People in Canada can’t see this content.” This means that readers are unable to see any content posted by affected news organizations, including the Griff. “The impact that it’s had on the Gateway is so hard to put into words,” Teeling says. “We’ve seen such a reduction in foot traffic on our site. Students can’t access news to the things that are impacting them, which is really hard to see.”
So, what does this bill mean for student publications? “I think it just means a lot of unnecessary challenges,” St. Amand explains. Social media allowed an ease of access for students without the need to provide 24-hour in-person engagement and promotion, but now, “we don’t have those touchpoints with the students anymore,” she adds. “We don’t have the manpower.”
“This is removing the voice of millions of people.”
Katie Teeling, Editor in Chief at the Gateway
The two main platforms being affected by this bill are Instagram and Facebook. “We [the Gateway] rely really heavily on Facebook and Instagram…our biggest concern right now is outreach,” Teeling says. Print media is already diminishing, so reaching followers without online platforms is going to be a struggle, she believes. When it comes to who’s being banned, the small, struggling student publications are suffering the most. “It seems almost arbitrary and vindictive,” she adds.
Not only does Bill C-18 directly affect staff who are on the inside of these publications, but it also affects their supporters, friends, and families.. “[Supporters] of our writers and contributors like seeing what they’re up to, and now there’s just not as much visibility…it’s frustrating that we’re being punished,” St. Amand says. Moving forward, CUPs’ President and Executive Editor of the Silhouette Andrew Mrozowski believes that it’s up to us to stand up to these big companies and make our presence known. “We’re not in this fight,” he says. “And it [wasn’t] our fight to begin with.”
“We’re not in this fight. And it [wasn’t] our fight to begin with.”
Andrew Mrozowski, President of the Canadian University Press
Google’s decision to restrict results of news stories will have an obvious impact on readers looking to find news, but it will also shift the manner in which journalists research and report. “We’re going to have to fundamentally change the way that we share our news,” Swensrude says. “It’s very strange.” Aside from reducing social media activity, she also foresees the lack of freedom on such a prominent search engine being the largest limitation that comes along with the bill. “[It] is going to be a big pain to not be able to use Google as a research tool,” the Global News reporter adds. “There’s a reason why we call it ‘googling’ something.”
As for the future of news — researching, reporting, and sharing — Swensrude admits that she doesn’t really know what’s going to happen. “Everything is so up in the air right now,” she says. Many reporters are fearful of how this bill may affect both their jobs and the state of news reporting overall. “It might be harder to find accurate facts,” Swensrude adds. “I think that misinformation is going to have a lot more space to spread…it’s very frightening [and] I think that this could actually be very harmful.”
“I think that misinformation is going to have a lot more space to spread…it’s very frightening [and] I think that this could actually be very harmful.”
(Stephanie Swensrude, Global News Online Journalist)
With the rise of fake news, journalists have begun to worry about how readers are going to find credible stories online, let alone local news. “I’m personally a little bit concerned about how this is going to affect Canadians’ access to news, and [their] understanding and knowledge of what’s happening in the world,” St. Amand says. “If people can’t get news easily from reputable sources, then disreputable news is going to rise.” On top of this, readers will need to be prepared to sift and sort through stories more than we’re used to, and journalists will need to strengthen their connections with the readers of their publications. Now, “news will be even harder to circulate,” Teeling says. “I think beyond news, it’ll hurt engagement with [the community] on campuses. I do worry about the connectivity between journalists and our readership base.”
For years, we’ve relied on news and media organizations to fuel our curiosity and educate us about the world. But more recently, with the rise of digital sharing and social media, those views have changed. Many readers see the news as depressing or untrustworthy, but news benefits everyone. Whether it’s checking social media updates for news on natural disasters, reading articles about local events, or just killing time to check out opinion articles. To many — Canadians, journalists, and readers — it’s everything.
Some of Edmonton’s post-secondary student publications, the Nugget, the Griff, and the Gateway, are all fearful of the same thing: a loss of readership on campus. The main problem with the bill is that most people don’t understand what it means for journalism, but Swensrude’s goal is to educate the public and encourage readers to understand just why it’s so important. “News isn’t just entertainment [or] clicks, or learning about, like, Ariana Grande’s new boyfriend,” she says. “It is lifesaving.”
“News isn’t just entertainment [or] clicks, or learning about, like, Ariana Grande’s new boyfriend. It is lifesaving.”
(Stephanie Swensrude, Global News Online Journalist)
For Canadian news organizations, it’s going to be a giant shift in an unknown direction, but for student publications especially, tech companies’ responses to the bill are going to impact the ways in which journalists research, report, write, create content, and ultimately, get their work into the hands of Canadians. “I feel like journalists are in this really unique position where we’re given this intense trust to cover stories in a way that’s respectful, truthful, just, and fair.” Teeling adds. “…We’re [The Gateway] not just a news organization. We are also pillars of our community.”
Yet, amid all of the uncertainty, there is room for hope. “I really really hope that they can find some sort of…negotiation between Meta, Google, and the Canadian government,” St. Amand says. But, in the meantime, if there’s any group of people who can find ways to be creative and work through the challenges of this bill, it’s journalists. Similarly, Swensrude reveals that she’s optimistic for the future of journalism and eager to see what writers can do. “I always like to look for silver linings,” she says. “Limitations breed creativity…when you’re faced with a struggle, you have to become creative. So, who knows? Maybe something even better will come out of this.” And at the Griff, we’re going to do our best to make sure she’s right.