Freedom of the press | The wolf in the sheepfold

If you close a wound without first disinfecting it well, there is a good chance that the infection will spread, with the risk of causing even greater harm than the initial wound.

This is one of the definitions, less well known it must be said, of the expression “letting the wolf into the fold”, which I thought of while attending a symposium organized by the Governor General of Canada, on 11 last April.

On the eve of International Press Freedom Day, this Friday, May 3, it seems appropriate to return to this meeting about which there has been very little talk in the media.

Around a hundred people from across Canada were invited to this day of reflection entitled “Building a healthy and respectful digital world”. I represented the Professional Federation of Journalists of Quebec (FPJQ).

A very interesting meeting where we heard disturbing testimonies from various personalities, especially women, victims of online harassment and hatred. A phenomenon that we unfortunately know too well at the FPJQ.

All day long, (too) many people came to testify to the pernicious effects of online hatred.

There was also talk of solutions, such as that deployed by the Virtual Guardians Foundation and its digital street workers. A very interesting concept.

As the day drew to a close, many hands were still raised, a sign of the guests’ clear interest in the topics discussed at Rideau Hall that day. We would not take any more questions, it was indicated, before leaving the microphone… to the boss of Facebook in Canada for a final comment.

Kevin Chan’s intervention immediately caused unease in the room. A discomfort that I myself felt while listening to him explain that we were facing a complex problem and that we all had to work together to find solutions.

Once again, the wolf had indeed entered the fold.

Kevin Chan is right. Online harassment and hatred are delicate problems, which require the collaboration of all actors in society in the hope of finding lasting solutions. Just as disinformation and growing polarization in an increasingly complex world have become important societal issues.

Although we must all work together to face such challenges, not all players are on an equal footing at the start of this obstacle course. The bosses of Facebook (and Meta) would obviously like to convince us otherwise, a bit like the oil companies who want to talk to us about individual responsibilities to face climate change. At the same time, these same companies are lobbying behind the scenes to continue extracting every last drop of oil.

The question that arises here: are Facebook and its parent company, Meta, exemplary corporate citizens, to the point of being invited by the Governor General of Canada to an official event at Rideau Hall?


An example of journalistic content blocked by Meta/Facebook

The truth is that all over the world, Meta collects scandals, as well as prosecutions on many subjects of public interest. The dominant position of web giants is also a serious problem in our ultra-connected societies. Finally, these same giants are also in the process of suffocating media ecosystems in several countries, with almost generalized indifference.

It is in this context that it seems more than doubtful to me that the red carpet is still being rolled out for Meta’s leaders, who are doing everything they can to protect their corporate interests before the public interest.

While Kevin Chan spoke to us about the importance of working together for the common good, his company has been blocking media content on its platforms for several months. All this to avoid paying royalties to Canadian media under Bill C-18.

However, if we rely on the agreement reached between Google and the Canadian government, Meta would probably have to pay $40 million per year to the media, which it deprives of significant advertising revenue thanks to a dominant position shared with Google .

According to its latest financial results, Meta saw its turnover increase by 27%, to 36.5 billion US dollars for the first three months of 2024, while its net profit completely doubled to 12. 4 billion US dollars.

That Meta prioritizes dollars above all else is no big surprise. That its leaders try to make us believe that they are whiter than white, in order to avoid any government intervention in its affairs, is not a strategy so different from that of many other multinationals.

Besides, why on earth would they change their approach? Even if Meta blocks media in Canada and lets disinformation poison its platforms, it’s business as usual in its Canadian affairs. Do you want the microphone, Mr. Chan? Here it is, take your time…

What do you think ? Participate in the dialogue


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