The surrounding Charlotte County covers 1,323 square miles of territory—about twice the area of Greater London, and four times the size of New York City—with a population of just 26,015. Its location means it’s faster to row a boat to the US than drive almost anywhere else in Canada. It’s far from an anomaly. Nearly 7 million Canadians live in rural or remote areas—about one-sixth of the country’s population.
“Facebook has never been a numbers grab for us, because we live in such a small part of the world,” CHCO-TV news director Hogarth says. Instead, she sees her outlet’s Facebook page—currently followed by 28,000 people—as a way to keep locals connected on events and issues that matter to them.
St. Andrews is a postage stamp of a town in a quintessentially rural area. Without the local cable television station and its Facebook page, St. Andrews would also be a news desert—a place parched of reliable, factual daily information about the community. It’s within voids like this that Facebook has become a powerful resource, says Markus Giesler, a consumer sociologist and a professor of marketing at York University in Toronto, who studies technology. “You need to look at how Facebook came out of this idea of capturing people’s social relationship data and then, as that became more and more of a saturated business model, the question arose as to how they could remain sustainable,” Giesler says. “From then on, they began to sort of hijack community.”
Now it’s become almost unfathomable for people to think of creating communities around anything—social issues, childcare, pets—without Facebook or Instagram. “They’ve taken a sociological asset, something that’s very important to how we relate to each other as human beings, and they have made themselves indispensable,” Giesler says.
Meta’s ubiquitous influence made it an easy target for news CEOs and lobbyists.
Andrew MacLeod, the CEO of Postmedia—Canada’s largest newspaper chain—is in the car when he answers my call. MacLeod is also a director of the News Media Canada lobbying group that fought for C-18, and so he is pleased with the outcome even if most of the 130 properties under the Postmedia banner are now blocked on Facebook and Instagram. “I am very OK with it,” MacLeod says of the bill.
Leading communication law expert and vocal C-18 critic Michael Geist took a guess as to why that may be in a blog post last year in which he counted 52 registered meetings between News Media Canada lobbyists and members of the federal government. A number of additional meetings have been registered since Geist’s post. “This represents an astonishing level of access and may help explain why the concerns of independent media and the broader public are missing from the bill,” wrote Geist.
He has repeatedly called C-18 a disaster, warning that its passage would undermine press freedom. promote censorship, and stunt competition.
MacLeod is more optimistic. He sees an opportunity in Canadians’ growing dislike for Facebook. “People are starting to re-evaluate the relationship with Meta, as a function of Meta choosing to exit the [news] category and take a pretty aggressive posture relative to a piece of legislation passed in a democratic country,” he says. He’s hopeful it will allow the Canadian advertising industry to evolve, giving newspapers like his bigger pieces of the pie.