Google argues Bill C-18 will lead to more misinformation

Emilie Bergeron, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Web giant Google argued Tuesday that Bill C-18 would lead to a proliferation of misinformation and make it harder to access reliable media content.

« C-18 defines eligible news organizations in an extremely broad way and publishers are not required to meet basic journalistic standards, » said Colin McKay, head of public policy and government relations for Google Canada.

The latter cut to pieces, by testifying to the heritage committee of the House of Commons, the bill aimed at forcing digital platforms to pay for the sharing of content produced by the news media.

“This will lead to the spread of disinformation and content that only serves to generate clicks (“click bates”),” added Mr. McKay.

Members of the committee seemed skeptical of this assertion. Bloc Québécois Martin Champoux has suggested that Google itself is spreading misinformation about Bill C-18.

He said he was puzzled by the way a survey commissioned by the company was conducted, particularly that the results indicate that Canadians don’t want to have to pay to access Google-powered content.

“What is the question you asked Canadians (…) to let them believe that there would be fees to pay on their part (…)? I try to understand because you say that you want to counter disinformation (and), for me, there is like a dichotomy, ”launched Mr. Champoux.

Mr. McKay replied that he did not have the wording of the question at hand, but that this information could be provided to the committee after the fact.

“We would really need this information. We must all, each of us, fight misinformation,” added New Democrat Peter Julian. He said he was « disturbed » by the way Google presented the survey he commissioned from Abacus Data.

Mr. McKay also mentioned other concerns with Bill C-18, such as that the platforms could not disadvantage certain media in sharing content on the basis that their articles are deemed to be less reliable.

Other witnesses appearing on Tuesday instead extolled the benefits they believe the bill will have if it becomes law.

The director of the daily « Le Devoir », Brian Myles, said that « the strike force » of networks such as Facebook or Google is necessary for any media that relies on subscription income.

« They make our content discoverable and enable us to expand the user base and potentially convert them into subscribers, » he said.

The heritage committee is studying Bill C-18, which aims to force platforms – mainly Google and Facebook – to enter into indemnification agreements with news companies. Several media have already entered into agreements with web giants. This is the case with Le Devoir, as Mr. Myles recalled, emphasizing that this did not prevent the daily team from supporting Bill C-18.

Representatives of small media companies had previously defended the C-18, saying that any negotiation in their case goes through collective bargaining.


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