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Facebook Canada head warns news posts could be blocked as last resort – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The head of Facebook Canada says it will try to avoid a repeat of the news blackout it imposed in Australia, so long as impending legislation doesn’t force it to dim the lights of democracy.

“It is never something we would ever want to do unless we really have no choice,” Kevin Chan told a parliamentary committee hearing Monday.

Facebook blocked all news on its platform in Australia for five days last month in response to proposed legislation that would require digital giants to pay legacy media outlets for linking to their work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Australian counterpart agreed to continue “co-ordinating efforts” to ensure Big Tech revenues are shared more fairly with creators and media after Facebook struck a deal with the Australian government on a revised bill, which still demands tech titans fork over cash for linked content.

The standoff Down Under shone a spotlight on Facebook’s massive clout — despite the public relations disaster that ensued — as well as broader questions around shifting media business models and modes of information consumption.

Ottawa is working on a three-pronged response to the challenges that social media platforms and other online content providers pose to how media in Canada has been financed, regulated and policed in the past.

Part of that solution is a bill currently before the House of Commons to modernize the broadcasting regime in a way that could force internet steaming sites like Netflix and Spotify to make Canadian content more discoverable and to cough up financial contributions to bolster Canadian creators and producers.

Online hate is a focus of the second prong, as global observers continue to question Facebook’s role in tragedies ranging from the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand to deadly military violence directed at Myanmar’s Rohingya minority, along with racist posts in Canada.

The third prong seeks to address how major internet companies are taxed — with Australia providing a possible model — and in turn how traditional media companies are financially supported.

Facebook already props up struggling legacy news firms by directing traffic to their sites, Chan said, arguing that cumbersome regulation would hinder a free and open internet.

He pointed to Ontario-based Village Media, whose CEO estimates that Facebook and Google generated 24 million page views for the online community news company in January, amounting to $480,000 in ad revenue. Facebook Canada has also announced investments of $18 million in sustainable media models over six years.

Even if Facebook did choose to choke off news access, the platform doesn’t currently function as an essential source of information for most Canadians, Chan said. He cited a Ryerson Leadership Lab study showing that about one-quarter of the population gets its news from Facebook, below several other sources including television, which topped the list, but above newspapers and magazines.

“It’s not the case that Facebook is somehow synonymous to the internet or somehow synonymous with access to news,” he said.

Critics argue that paying publishers for links that they or their readers choose to post on social media — effectively a form of promotion — is backwards; if anything, news outlets should pay Facebook for the privilege of putting up de facto ads on its platform.

In a statement to The Canadian Press, Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said the government is consulting with France and Australia over the “market imbalance between news media organizations and those who benefit from their work.”

“News is not free and has never been. Our position is clear: publishers must be adequately compensated for their work and we will support them as they deliver essential information for the benefit of our democracy and the health and well-being of our communities,” he said.

In Australia, Facebook secured concessions in an agreement with the government that allows more room for private deals between Facebook and media firms — such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp — and an extra round of negotiation with publishers before binding arbitration kicks in.

But settling that dust-up did little to pacify concerns over the might and motivations of Big Tech.

“People are increasingly concerned about the power of the web giants and the ravages of the spread of online hate speech, the impact of unfair competition of these giants on local media, and the total lack of justice when people work hard to pay their fair share and multinational web companies do everything to circumvent the rules,” said New Democrat MP Heather McPherson.

She accused the Liberal government of fostering a “cosy relationship” with digital giants that protects platforms’ profits at the expense of local media and Canadian taxpayers.

The government hopes to table legislation on fair remuneration this year, Guilbeault said.

It also aims to put forward within weeks a bill on online hate speech that would establish a regulator responsible for enforcing an updated definition of hate and ensuring illegal content comes down within 24 hours, subject to strict penalties — which Chan says Facebook would support.

“If we aren’t seen to be in good faith building the right systems to enforce against our standards, then absolutely we should be subject to some kind of penalty and held to account,” he said.

Lawmakers also raised concerns Monday about disinformation around COVID-19 vaccines as Canadians rely increasingly on digital communications to stay informed amid a pandemic, an issue that Chan says the company is trying to address while respecting freedom of expression.

“The challenge is, we do need to strike a balance between people’s ability to speak their minds and share their own feelings and ideas … and also prevent harmful misinformation about the vaccine from being spread,” Chan said.

Facebook has 35,000 moderators screening content around the world, including for misinformation and hate speech, he said.

Current Criminal Code provisions barring hate speech can seem increasingly feeble against the daily tide of content that washes up online.

“Bigoted speech is always out there,” said University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon in an interview. “But the rise of social media as the principal platforms for personal and public engagement has helped hateful views of different kinds move more into the mainstream.”

Moon pointed to algorithms on sites such as YouTube, owned by Google, that can wind up fanning inflammatory posts.

“In order to try to maintain the attention of the viewer, they make suggestions of videos that are more and more extreme because people are often more and more engaged and it holds their attention,” he said.

Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, says one reason hate has been so tough to rein in online is a lack of government “guidance.”

“The harm that it’s creating not only to victims who face it but to our sense of common decency as Canadians is eroding our faith in democracy,” he said in an interview.

“And all of it is happening because of how social media platforms have allowed fringe voices to take over.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2021.

Facebook funds a fellowship that supports journalism positions at The Canadian Press.

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NASA Invites Media to Next SpaceX Cargo Launch to Space Station – NASA

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NASA Invites Media to Next SpaceX Cargo Launch to Space Station  NASA



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How HuffPost Canada's digital impact and untimely demise changed Canadian news media – Poynter

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Mel Woods found out they no longer had a job from a group chat.

The Vancouver-based journalist was working as HuffPost Canada’s only worker in the western region of the country, covering viral and trending stories as an associate editor, up until the outlet’s unceremonious March 2021 demise. BuzzFeed bought HuffPost in November 2019 and, just two weeks after the newsroom’s decision to unionize, closed HuffPost Canada and left 23 staff without their jobs.

It’s another data point in a long list of recent closures and contractions on the Canadian media landscape.

Many of those laid off have landed positions elsewhere. Woods now plies their trade at Xtra — a Toronto-based outlet focused on 2SLGBTQ+ perspectives — and others have surfaced as staff at The New York Times, CBC and Politico, among others. Some left for public relations gigs, and others are currently working as freelancers. The announcement of the closure just one week from the meeting, Woods said, left some staff scrambling.

“For somebody who was suddenly unemployed, it was a very, very busy week because we had to sort out what happened and when, and what the unionization played into it, what severance played into it and why it had happened because it caught all of us by surprise,” Woods said.

HuffPost’s union, CWA Canada, had never faced a closure in its history. President Martin O’Hanlon said the ceasing of operations points to BuzzFeed’s lack of understanding of the Canadian media landscape.

“I don’t think it says a lot about the Canadian media industry, per se, I think it says a lot about BuzzFeed. And I think it tells you that BuzzFeed is just interested in America, and in making as much profit as possible,” O’Hanlon said. “… They don’t give a damn about Canadian journalism is the bottom line.”

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for BuzzFeed said: “BuzzFeed announced a restructuring of HuffPost in March in order to break even this year and fast-track its path to profitability. As part of these changes, we made the difficult decision to close HuffPost’s Canada and Quebec operations. The incredibly talented teams there have made enormous contributions to the political and news ecosystems in Canada — from extensive, award-winning coverage of the federal election, to relentless reporting on how COVID-19 exacerbated a long-term care crisis, and a powerful investigation of how mental illness is responded to as a crime. We know this decision was painful for everyone affected, but we are confident that these journalists will continue to do powerful and impactful reporting in the years to come. We continue to do everything we can to ensure their transition is a smooth one.”

The announcement certainly wasn’t easy on the staff of HuffPost Canada. The all-hands meeting in which the closure was announced, which Woods said was predicted within the staff to be announcing a new U.S. editor-in-chief, had the password “spring is here.”

But the closing of HuffPost Canada is more than another sad story to add to the layoffs seen at other newsrooms in Canada, most publicly at Global and Postmedia. HuffPost’s Canada’s coverage won awards posthumously. Woods won an award from RTDNA Canada for examining gender and transphobia more than two months after the outlet officially closed.

The skill and success of the staff was partially due to the culture and the diversity of the newsroom, Woods said.

“The fact of how quickly folks have been snapped up by other places is proof of the respect that was had for our newsroom,” Woods said. “We kind of sprinkled our seeds everywhere.”

Woods likened the HuffPost style that they have taken to Xtra as “serving (readers) their vegetables, but in a good way,” through a metrics and service journalism-focused approach.

Some of those seeds appear to have taken root elsewhere. New approaches to digital journalism in Canada, including what service looks like to staff and readers, is a common thread in discussions with Canadian newsroom leaders.

The Canadian Association of Journalists recently completed data collection for their first diversity survey, modeling their work after the News Leaders Association in the U.S. Meanwhile, CBC made the decision to turn off all Facebook comments on news stories for a month beginning in mid-June, which editor-in-chief Brodie Fenlon attributed to a data-gathering exercise mixed with a want to protect the mental health of journalists. It is a policy that they have since extended to the end of October.

HuffPost Canada’s digital impact, and its dismantling, points toward a future for Canadian journalism that must consider the health of its readers and staff while acknowledging the changing needs of digital media.

CBC’s decision to direct the tenets of service journalism toward its own staff hints toward an industry that is understanding (at a glacial pace) just how worn down it is and how building back means doing so with care. At this year’s Michener Awards, a ceremony dedicated to public service journalism and its impact on society, APTN journalist Kenneth Jackson acknowledged what it means to sit with the impact your work makes, on subjects, readers and staff.

“If you want to do service journalism you can’t fly above it,” he said, “you gotta get down and wear it.”

BuzzFeed appears to have worn its decision, as have the journalists who had to face the consequences.

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OPINION/EDITORIAL: Will social media companies ever make fighting online abuse a priority? – moosejawtoday.com

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Is it just me who believes we’ve lost our ability to have civil discourse? 

Every day, we rely on social media platforms to engage with like-minded people, promote ourselves, our work, and/or business. Unfortunately, the downside of increasing your visibility, especially when you wade into an online discussion with an unpopular opinion, is you become a lightning rod for online abuse. Online abuse can be especially relentless if you are a woman, identified as a member of a race, religion, ethnicity, or part of the LGBTQ+ community.

I believe social media companies can reduce, even come close to, eliminating, online abuse. The first step: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, et al. becoming more serious and urgent about addressing the toxicity they’re permitting on their respective platform. The second step: Give users more control over their privacy, identity, and account history.  

Here are five features social media companies could introduce to mitigate online abuse.

Educate users on how to protect themselves online.

I’ll admit social media companies have been improving their anti-harassment features. However, many of these features are hard to find and not user-friendly. Platforms should have a section within their help center that deals specifically with online abuse, showing how to access internal features along with links to external tools and resources. 

Make it easy to tighten privacy and security settings.

Platforms need to make it easier for users to fine-tune their privacy and security settings and inform how these adjustments impact visibility and reach. Users should be able to save configurations of settings into personalized “safety modes,” which they can toggle between. When they alternate between safety modes, a “visibility snapshot” should show them in real-time who’ll see their content.

Distinguishing between the personal and professional

Currently, social media accounts are all-encompassing of your professional life and personal life. If you want to distinguish between your professional and personal life, you must create two accounts. Why not be able to make one social media account that toggles between your personal and professional identities as well as migrate or share audiences between them? 

Managing account histories

It’s common for people to switch jobs and careers and their views over time. Being able to pull up a user’s social media history, which can date back more than a decade, is a goldmine for abuse. Platforms should make it easy for users to easily search old posts and make them private, archive, or delete.

Credit cards and/or phone number authentication.

All social media platforms allow the creation of anonymous accounts. Ironically, much of the toxicity permeating social media stems from people hiding cowardly behind anonymous accounts. 

Anonymity enables toxic behavior by facilitating and backhandedly encouraging “uncivil discourse.” Eliminating the ability to create an anonymous account would literally end online abuse. 

Anonymity allows people to act out their anger, frustrations, and their need to make others feel bad, so they feel good. (I’m unhappy, so I want everyone else to be unhappy.). Being anonymous allows someone to say things they wouldn’t even think of or have the courage to, speak publicly, let alone face-to-face. 

All credit cards and telephone numbers are associated with a billing address. Social media platforms could prevent anonymous accounts by asking new joiners to input their credit card information, to be verified but not charged, or a telephone number to which a link, or code, can be sent to authenticate. (Email authentication is useless since email addresses can be created without identity verification.) 

Undeniable fact: When people know they can easily be traced they’re unlikely to exhibit uncivil behaviour.

Yeah, I know — for many, handing over more data to social media giants isn’t appetizing, even if it eliminates the toxic behavior hurting our collective psyche. Having to go through a credit card or telephone authentication will be pause for many to ask themselves why the feel they must be on social media. Such reflection is not a bad exercise.

Online attacks have a negative impact on mental and physical health, stops free expression, and silences voices already underrepresented in the creative and media sectors and in public discourse. 

Respective platform user guidelines (aka. Community Standards) are open to interpretation and therefore not enforced equitably. Content moderators (human eyes) and AI crawling (searching for offensive words and content) aren’t cutting it. 

Social media companies can’t deny they could be doing a much better job creating a safer online environment. Unfortunately, a safer online environment will only evolve when social media companies begin taking online abuse seriously.

Nick Kossovan writes the column ‘Digitized Koffee With Nick’ which appears in several newspapers and is the Customer Service Professionals Network’s Director of Social Media (Executive Board Member). On Twitter and Instagram follow @NKossovan.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.  

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