When Bill C-18 passed into law on June 22, Canadians became concerned with their ability to access news. With Meta and Google primed to block Canadian news sources, Canadian university students now need to look to other platforms for their daily intake of news stories.
Bill C-18 will require big digital news intermediaries such as search engines or social media platforms to compensate news outlets for their journalistic work.
Though the bill itself is vague, we now know from an exchange between Senator Paula Simons and Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez that Bill C-18 will target Meta and Google. Both tech giants are currently set on blocking Canadian news content before the end of 2023.
As the largest search and social media platforms, Meta and Google dominate the distribution of world news. From 2019 to 2023, Meta and its subsidiaries captured a 69 per cent average user share of Canadians using social networks for weekly news content. In March 2023, Google dominated search engine use by 91 per cent of Canadians.
It’s clear a large portion of Canadians rely heavily on these two platforms to stay informed on current affairs. Giving that much responsibility to any source of information is ill-advised—if both Meta and Google’s services ceased to exist, many Canadians would lose their primary source of news.
This situation should be a wake-up call for people who rely on Meta and Google to get their news. Luckily, even if Meta and Google go ahead with their plans, there are other ways to go about staying informed.
News flash—there are other search engines out there apart from Google.
While it’s true these other search engines are often considered irrelevant by popular media, they are truly functional alternatives to Google.
One example of a totally functional alternative is Bing, Microsoft’s search engine. Microsoft Canada said they would abide by any regulations on their products. On the other side of the coin is Yahoo Search, which makes use of Bing’s search engine to fuel results.
DuckDuckGo is another alternative. It’s primary draw is it doesn’t collect or store any of your personal information.
Additionally, video platforms are largely beyond the scope of Bill C-18. So, TikTok could be one video platform at your disposal, but it should be used in tandem with your own research. It’s important to remember TikTok recommends content based on an algorithm which may be reinforcing pre-existing biases.
Most news outlets release their TV segments on YouTube. The irony of Google owning YouTube doesn’t escape me, but it’s still possible to utilize the platform as a glorified cable box.
Looking to long-form podcasts, independent journalists, and other commentators are great options. Just be aware that the fact they aren’t tied to an official news organization is a double-edged sword since these sources often aren’t subject to multiple checks and balances. Just like when using TikTok, it’s important to practice healthy skepticism.
Lastly, it would be remiss to ignore the most straightforward solution: subscribing to newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, which each cost less than a cup of coffee a week and let you read on their app.
If finances are a barrier, the Queen’s University Library website offers an online newspaper collection, including both newspapers mentioned above.
Many of our teachers taught us to cite as many sources as possible in our research. The temptation to rely solely on platforms like Instagram to inform us about large, complicated stories is a disservice to our intelligence.
People on either side of this issue are quick to blame the companies or the government for threatening democracy and free thought. Regardless of our position, we need to remember how much of a blessing and a responsibility access to instantaneous online information is.
If we now depend on only one or two social media platforms to help us form our opinions, I’d argue our individual behaviour has become far more of a threat to informed citizenship than any corporation or government.
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