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Google to pull news in Canada, generative AI updates and more
What does Bill C-18 means for news in Canada and beyond? Twitter drops out of SERPs, Meta launch Threads — plus what’s going on with ChatGPT, and more. Our July news update.
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Hello, and welcome back. Jessie and Shelby here, teaming up for another collab issue! Jessie spent her weekend nursing a mini goose egg incurred during sailing (the boom! it moves fast!); while Shelby complained about the desert heat in Las Vegas for a full 72 hours, but refused to leave the poolside. It’s called balance.
This week: An overview of some must-reads for news SEOs. It’s been an eventful past few weeks in the search landscape. We’ll talk about what Bill C-18 means for news in Canada and beyond, Twitter dropping out of SERPs with their new crawling limits — and then having Meta launch Threads — as well as what’s going on with ChatGPT, and more!
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In this issue:
What is Bill C-18?
What’s new in generative AI?
What happened with Twitter?
Other Google news and updates
Canada’s Online News Act and news in search
What is Bill C-18? The legislation, referred to as the Online News Act, is an effort to make tech giants, like Meta and Google, pay Canadian publishers for content made available on their platforms.
In April, 2022, Pablo Rodriguez, Canada’s heritage minister, introduced Bill C-18, the Online News Act, a new legislative and regulatory framework to ensure “news media and journalists receive fair compensation for their work.” The bill forces companies to “make fair commercial deals” with Canadian publishers whose content appears on their platforms.
News outlets would be able to negotiate private deals with companies, but in the event that fails, it would go to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission for arbitration. The CRTC regulates and supervises broadcast and telecommunications in the country.
The legislation became law on June 22, 2023. It’s expected to come into effect by the end of this calendar year.
Why did the government introduce the legislation? News outlets in Canada, along with media around the world, have struggled in the last decade, facing massive revenue declines in the shift away from print media.
When introducing the bill, Canada’s government indicated that 450 news outlets have shuttered since 2008, and one-third of journalism jobs have disappeared since 2010.
Digital platforms and social media, the government notes, are the primary way Canadians find and consume news. And while Canadian content is available on those platforms, the lion’s share of revenue goes to tech giants.
In the government’s words, content sharing is mutual: platforms benefit from having news available — ads are served next to content, user engagement, data collection and targeted ad refinement — while outlets get traffic and exposure.
So, building on similar legislation in Australia, the government introduced Bill C-18 in response to what it calls a “market imbalance.”
Australia’s news bill, which took effect in March 2021, encountered similar challenges to what the Canadian legislation is currently facing.
The Australian News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code “enables eligible news businesses to bargain individually or collectively with digital platforms over payment for the inclusion of news on the platforms and services.”
However, Meta responded by restricting news in Australia saying the law “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content.”
This went on for five days before the company reached an agreement with the government. The deal addressed Meta's key concern about "allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them.”
Since then, the News Media Bargaining Code has been largely successful, the government says, with more than 30 deals signed with 200 publications for financial compensation for content that generated clicks and advertising dollars.
An Australia official said the law has been successful in “balancing bargaining power between news media and digital platforms.”
It’s worth noting the differences between the Canadian and Australian models. Michael Geist, a prominent Canadian academic, has noted the extra flexibility under the Australian model, differing economic moments for Facebook and Meta’s values/visibility of news on their platform. Canada’s bill also requires platforms to pay for audiovisual content (podcasts and videos), unlike in Australia.
Meta and Google’s reaction to Canada’s C-18: Google and Meta made good on promises to remove news from their platforms. On June 22, Meta confirmed news would disappear from Instagram and Facebook. On June 29, Google said it would remove links to news in Search, Google Discover and Google News (including Showcase, where it licenses news from 150 local publishers) when the legislation takes effect.
Google says the legislation amounts to a “link tax,” something they say “fundamentally breaks the way search (and the internet) have always worked.” Google says the so-called “tax” exposes them to “uncapped financial liability” for facilitating access to news.
In the June 29 announcement, Kent Walker, Google’s Head of Global Affairs, said the legislation “remains unworkable.” The company does not believe the regulatory process (the next step for Bill C-18) would resolve the “structural issues” it has with the bill.
Google will participate in the regulatory process, but if the government of Canada does not “outline a viable path forward,” they will continue with plans to remove news links from its products.
Reaction from critics in Canada: News outlets, journalists and media watchers are not united on this legislation.
Michael Geist has described the bill as a failure. When Google was testing its withdrawal of news links earlier this year, Geist said “everyone loses with the current bill.” In his podcast, Law Bytes, Geist has a conversation with Marc Edge, who has written several books on the Canadian newspaper industry, and both called it a “misguided legislation.”
For many years, some Canadian publishers, notably Postmedia, have been begging for government intervention in response to the decline of the news business. Edge explains that Postmedia reported a negative balance last year, having been kept alive only by the $595-million government bailout they got in 2019, which runs out this year. “They have been demanding for the past year or so that Google and Facebook bail them out, which is where we are now.”
Other publications were also part of the Local Journalism Initiative in 2018, where the government promised $50-million over five years to fill the gaps in local journalism. “The publishers kind of turned their noses up at that and called it a ‘band aid’ solution. They weren’t concerned about filling gaps in local communities, they wanted a full bailout, and they put out a full-court press,” says Edge.
John Ibbiton writes in The Globe and Mail that the legislation has, so far, hurt more than helped the news industry. “This purported help has probably come to an industry that, in its current form, cannot be rescued,” he writes.
Sandy Garossino, writing in the National Observer, argues Canada should stay the course. Calling Meta and Google’s removal of news from their products “mob tactics,” Garossino says the future is challenging, but Canada shouldn’t relent. “Every time we’ve ceded ground to social media giants, it’s come back to bite us. We have more power than we think in this fight,” she says.
David Moscrop, on his Substack, says Bill C-18 is bad legislation that should be amended or scrapped, but that no platform is really on the side of citizens or news readers. He argues it’s necessary to “reign in the tech giants and force them to pay for what they extract from their workers and from us.”
What’s next for news SEO in Canada: Canada is not very big. The population is around 40 million people — around the size of California — so our market is not a pressing concern for tech giants like Meta and Google.
Instead, both companies, it can be argued, are primarily concerned with precedent.
Chris Waddell, a longtime journalism professor, on an episode of the Front Burner podcast, said it clearly: “Facebook and Google are not concerned about the Canadian market. They’re concerned about precedents being set … Their concern is that, if a Canadian law goes into effect and money is then transferred to news organizations, then other countries will try to do the same thing.”
California (population 39.24 million) was considering — until July 7 — a proposal that would make online platforms pay news outlets for linking to their content. That proposal has been delayed until 2024, the bill’s author said Friday, to “ensure the strongest legislation possible — because getting this policy right is more important than getting it quick.”
Elsewhere in America, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar introduced a nation-wide law to allow publishers to jointly negotiate for compensation for access to their content. The Journalism Competition and Preservation Act has bipartisan support.
Should the United States (population 330 million) or any of its states go forward with legislation, tech giants would need to negotiate with huge publishers for compensation in a massive market. Talk about untapped financial liability.
There are a number of questions that remain unanswered right now. That includes, but is not limited, to:
What defines a Canadian publication? What defines Canadian content?
Does this advantage non-Canadian publishers who happen to cover Canada? (For example, soon the New York Times, reporting on news in Canada, will be more visible in SERPs where the CBC, CTV, Global and other Canadian outlets will not appear).
The legislation is set to come into effect in six months. Will Google wait until the end of 2023 — or begin removal of news links sooner?
Are Facebook Messenger, Gmail or Google Chat affected? How do these tech giants censor “private” conversations that include sharing links?
On a macro level: What does it mean for other countries going forward? Will the legislation embolden other jurisdictions, or make them more wary in their attempts to regulate digital giants and tech platforms?
What’s new in generative AI: SGE and ChatGPT updates
In the two months since Google’s announcement of the Search Generative Experience, updates to the feature have continued to roll out (including faster AI snapshot generation and the increased visibility of brand websites).
Here are some recent highlights from Google, along with broader generative AI news:
Google announced it is beginning consultation to explore “machine-readable means for web publisher choice and control for emerging AI and research use cases'' — or, additional ways for sites to control crawling and indexing of their content for generative AI (after the launch of SGE, which presumably used content from said publishers as training data). The search giant is inviting folks from many industries (including publishers) to weigh in.
Google sometimes lists nearby stores with stock/inventory for the product being searched, directly in SGE. Lily Ray posted about the feature on Twitter, but it’s not necessarily new; potentially just increased visibility in some markets. It’s a nice boost of visibility for local shops, and helpful for users looking to make nearby purchases.
A dedicated Perspectives feature (i.e., carousel) may be rolling out in search results for some users. The carousel highlights content from forums (like Reddit), according to screenshots posted by Glenn Gabe. Clicking the “More” button prompts the existing Perspectives filter.
Other AI news:
Bing confirmed it made improvements to its Chat, including “reduced latency spikes for certain chat answers." According to the search engine, the work reduces delays by as much as 25 per cent for some queries.
OpenAI announced Code Interpreter, which allows the platform to run code and work with data from files uploaded to the program (e.g., creating charts). The feature will soon be available to ChatGPT Plus users. Meanwhile, the company also disabled ChatGPT's "Browse" beta feature, as it was providing the full text of a URL. ”We are disabling Browse while we fix this — want to do right by content owners," the said.
Twitter had … a week
At the beginning of July, Twitter made changes to the visibility of tweets to address data scraping concerns.
Twitter began blocking unregistered users from being able to browse tweets, then imposed a “temporary limit” for the number of tweets users could read in a day (around 6,000 posts).
Shortly after these changes came into effect, it was reported that Google stopped crawling and indexing Twitter content, displaying fewer tweets and pages from Twitter in SERPs.
According to NewzDash, which analyzed news queries in the U.S. and U.K., Twitter lost 12-14 per cent of its visibility within Google search results after this change. There were concerns around what this would do to the newly-implemented Perspectives carousel, and how user-generated content is treated heading into an SGE environment.
However, less than 24 hours later, Twitter made another adjustment: Google and unregistered could see tweets, but with an added modal to prompt users to sign up. This means Google crawlers can see and render the tweets again. What a whiplash.
This is just one of Elon Musk’s issues this month; Meta launched their Twitter competitor app, Threads, late last week. Threads are a “new, separate space for real-time updates and public conversations.” In its first 24 hours, Threads — a near identical replica of the bird app — had 30 million users, making it one of the fastest-growing apps ever. However, Twitter still has about 368-million users who visit daily (as of May, 2023).
It's too early to tell the impact Threads will have on the visibility of other social media platforms in SERPs, or how Google will even treat Threads content on their surfaces. The market didn’t seem too impressed by Mark Zuckerberg’s flex. It’s a significantly quieter stock market reaction than when ChaptGPT came into the mix.
Other Google news and updates
Hello GA4: Google Analytics 4 has officially replaced Universal Analytics. As of July 1, the standard Universal Analytics properties stopped processing new data. Now, you’ll need to make the switch to Google Analytics 4 to access your data.
Does semantic HTML help Search identify and evaluate content?: In the video, John Mueller explains semantic HTML is not a ranking factor, but it does help Google better understand your content. Replying to a comment, Mueller noted that “no ranking factor compensates missing relevance, or missing user interest.” The TL;DR: avoid hyper-fixation on single points of concern — instead, focus on producing high-quality content that your readers want and will improve their lives or solve a problem.
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