Screenshots of messages that appear when Canadian social media users try to view news content on Facebook.
While the federal, Quebec and BC governments have suspended advertising with Meta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories governments say they have no plans to follow suit.
Canada and the two provinces, as well as some municipalities, have said they will not give advertising dollars to the parent company of Facebook and Instagram while it blocks Canadian social media users from viewing or sharing any news content on its platforms.
The social media giant began the widespread ban last month, following initial testing in July, in response to Canada’s Online News Act.
The federal government passed the new legislation with the stated aim of getting big tech companies to compensate news outlets for using their content. Meta, however, has said the law is “unworkable” and misrepresents the value news organizations get from its platforms. The company’s ban on news is intended to ensure Meta complies with the legislation but does not become liable for any payments under the new system.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said as of July 7, the federal government had stopped all advertising on Meta-owned platforms that were part of campaigns valued at $25,000 or more.
According to the latest annual report on the federal government’s advertising activities, it spent more than $11.4 million advertising on Facebook and Instagram during the 2021-2022 fiscal year. That does not include campaigns under $25,000.
Where the territories stand
Like the majority of provinces, the territorial governments have continued to advertise with Meta since the news ban was implemented.
For many residents of the North, Facebook is a key site for finding information, including from territorial and local governments. While posting on the site is free, Meta says paid advertising can help content to reach its intended audience.
In an email, Todd Sasaki, a representative of the NWT’s Department of Finance, said the territory would not freeze advertising with Meta as it had “proven to be effective in reaching residents in small and remote communities, and restricting advertising would directly affect our ability to communicate about programs and services with northerners.”
Sasaki said the NWT government did, however, recognize “the value of supporting local businesses and ensuring money spent stays within the North.”
In the 2022-23 fiscal year, he said, territorial departments spent an average of $83,483 a month on advertising, about $5,459 of which – less than seven percent – went to Meta.
In an email, a representative for the Yukon government said it continues “to monitor the situation as it unfolds in other provinces and territories across the country.” The spokesperson said territorial departments are responsible for their own advertising, so a total amount spent on Meta advertising across the Yukon government was not available.
Following initial publication of this article, the Nunavut government said it continues to advertise with Meta, which accounts for a “miniscule but valuable part” of its annual advertising budget.
“We cannot ignore that most residents over 13 in Nunavut can be reached via our Facebook pages (one for each language),” Casey Lessard, a spokesperson for the government wrote in an email. “Facebook was especially useful during the Covid-19 pandemic, when we engaged a low-budget boosting strategy.”
Lessard added that Nunavut is aware of concerns in NWT about how Meta’s news ban affected the dissemination of information during the wildfire crisis. As a precaution, he said the Nunavut government was looking at ways to bolster its web presence “to ensure Nunavummiut can always find authoritative information without delay in all official languages, especially in the event of an emergency.”
An online tool published by Meta shows that between June 25 and August 24, the NWT government spent at least $930 advertising on the platform. The government was not listed in connection with ad campaigns with Meta between August 24 and September 22.
During the same period, the report indicates the Government of Yukon spent at least $326 on Meta advertising, while the Nunavut government was not listed in connection with any advertisements.
Reports compiled using the online tool do not specify ad campaign spending under $100.
Favouring local advertisers
Yukon is the only territory that uses party politics rather than a consensus-style system of government. Both the Yukon NDP and Yukon Party said they already favour local advertisers over Meta, while the governing Yukon Liberal Party did not respond to a request for comment.
Meta’s data indicates that between June 25 and September 22, the Yukon Liberal caucus spent at least $334 advertising with Meta and the Yukon Party spent at least $230.
The City of Whitehorse said in an email it is not planning to pause advertising on Meta but is “closely monitoring the impacts of Meta’s decision to block news access on its platforms.” The city said it has spent approximately $5,700 advertising on Meta to date – and nearly $20,000 advertising with local print media during the same period.
“In order to reach as many residents as possible, the city relies on various mediums to share information on the city’s various projects and initiatives, including digital platforms. We also continue to leverage the reach of local media to provide an even greater reach,” wrote Oshea Jephson, a spokesperson for the city.
Kent Driscoll, a spokesperson for the City of Iqaluit, said the Nunavut capital continues to advertise with Meta as the majority of its residents look for information on Facebook. He said the city has spent $600 on Facebook ads this year, including promoting a public meeting on its long-term water project and a summer event for craftspeople.
The City of Yellowknife said it has not made an official decision regarding advertising with Meta but since 2022, had done so only once, at a cost of $30.
‘No one is above the law’
While the federal government has stopped advertising with Meta, the Liberal Party of Canada and most other federal political parties have continued to do so. The Bloc Québécois, however, has said it plans to halt the practice.
Meta’s data indicates that between June 25 and September 22, the Conservative Party of Canada spent $104,893, the Liberal Party of Canada $31,171 and the Green Party of Canada $300 on advertising with the social media company. Nothing was listed for the New Democratic Party.
In a statement, the New Democrats said they plan to “monitor the situation in the hopes that the government’s advertising suspension will get web giants to follow the law and pay their fair share.”
“Meta and Google must abide by the Canadian laws that are adopted through Parliament like everyone else,” the NDP stated. “No one is above the law and the government shouldn’t cave to their bullying tactics. We welcome the government’s decision to suspend advertising on Meta platforms as called for by the NDP.”
At least one political leader in the North said they had stopped advertising with Meta in light of its Canadian news ban.
A representative for NWT Liberal MP Michael McLeod said that while not “explicitly directed” to do so, his office had ceased advertising with Meta on July 9 and has “no plans to resume until Meta stops blocking Canadian journalism.”
McLeod’s office said that during the 2022-23 fiscal year, it had spent $169.99 on Meta advertising and $8,884.92 advertising with local media.
Yukon Liberal MP Brendan Hanley did not return a request for comment. A contract expenditures report indicates his office spent $1,133.86 on Meta advertising during the 2022-23 fiscal year. His Facebook page is not currently running ads.
Nunavut NDP MP Lori Idlout’s expenditure reports indicate she did not pay for advertising with Meta in the past fiscal year.
Members of Parliament may use up to 20 percent of their office budget, which is set by the Board of Internal Economy, for advertising expenses related to their parliamentary, non-political functions. According to the members’ allowance and services manual, that amounts to $102,564 for NWT and Nunavut MPs and $97,290 for Yukon’s MP.