Parliamentary committee summons Mark Zuckerberg over Meta’s threat to block news

Bill C-18 would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online

By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa

Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg is being summoned by a parliamentary committee for the third time in four years — this time over the tech company’s threat to block news from Canadians on its social media platforms.

The decision comes a week after the company, which owns Facebook and Instagram, announced it would block news if the Liberal government’s Online News Act passes in its current form. 

The legislation, also known as Bill C-18, would require tech giants to pay Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.

The House of Commons heritage committee agreed on Monday to summon Zuckerberg, the company’s president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, and the head of Meta Canada, Chris Saniga, to appear at an upcoming meeting.

Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The House of Commons doesn’t have the power to summon individuals who live outside of Canada, but it can enforce the summons if they ever set foot in the country.

Zuckerberg has repeatedly ignored summons from Ottawa before, first in 2019 when an ethics committee was studying users’ privacy on social media platforms, and again in 2021 when the heritage committee was studying an Australian law similar to Bill C-18. 

The committee is also requesting internal and external documents from Meta and Google, which recently blocked news access for some Canadian users to test out a possible response to Bill C-18. 

Committee members also agreed to undergo a new study about what they see as an abuse of power by tech giants from around the world. 

“This is not only about C-18,” said Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, who introduced the motion to undergo the new study.

The study speaks to “larger issues of how very large companies use anti-(competitive), monopolistic tactics to seek to influence parliaments to meet their desires,” he said.

“This is not about whether C-18 is the right approach, or the wrong approach, but it’s about how tech companies are tackling that and other similar laws around the world.”

Housefather’s motion received the support of other Liberal MPs, the NDP and Bloc Québécois, while Conservative MPs on the committee abstained from the vote. 

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns that the committee’s decision to seek internal documents is “undemocratic,” in part because third-party communication from other organizations could be handed over to the committee.

Its CEO, Perrin Beatty, penned a letter to the committee on Sunday, saying the move poses a serious threat to the privacy of Canadians, especially those who oppose the government’s Online News Act. 

“Every individual and every organization in Canada has the right to decide whether it supports Bill C-18 or any other piece of legislation that comes before Parliament. They should be free to do so without fear of retribution for their views,” Beatty said in the letter to the committee, dated March 19.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023. 

Meta funds a limited number of fellowships that support emerging journalists at The Canadian Press.