By Andrea Gunraj, VP Public Engagement at Canadian Women’s Foundation

The biggest search and social media platforms in Canada have announced they will be ending access to news on their platforms before the Online News Act (Bill C-18) – an act that requires platforms to compensate media outlets for news content they share or repurpose – is enforced.

Meta started blocking news access on Facebook and Instagram at the start of August. Google announced they will do the same too.

The implications for women, girls, and Two Spirit, trans, and non-binary people in Canada can’t be understated.

Women in Canada use social media more than men. Their activity and personal information generate outsized revenue for these platforms.

At the same time, social media and search engines serve as curators for women and gender-diverse people, helping them locate information on gender gaps in health, safety, pay, and employment. Particularly those who face multiple barriers like racialized women, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, women with disabilities, and women in rural and remote areas, digital platforms help us deal with the issues we face every day.

They are still under-spoken topics in our homes, communities, schools, and workplaces.

I find it interesting that the most popular webpages on the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s website focus on gender pay gaps, gender-based violence, and gendered poverty. It’s a sign that the public cares about hidden facts of and solutions to gender inequalities, and they look to digital material to get it.

There’s a gendered tech and time gap to consider, too. Though women are heavier social media users, they spend less time on the internet than men. Women generally have less free time, at least partly due to a higher unpaid childcare and housework load. Gendered poverty could also mean that women and gender-diverse people are less able to afford the latest devices and internet access in a country where broadband is a problem, especially in rural and remote areas.

If we can’t rely on the biggest social media sites and search engines to help us find information about our lived experiences and how to navigate barriers, it’s going to be hardest on those with less time and money.

This is how digital news blockages will lead to wider gendered gaps and inequities, especially for those of us dealing with social and geographic isolation, marginalization, and unsafety.

Consider the award-winning Signal for Help hand gesture we launched in 2021, which went viral in Canada and around the world in large part due to journalists reporting on the “silent pandemic” of increased intimate partner violence and femicide. The Signal for Help has saved lives since then. Several news stories and social media posts speak to how women and girls have used the Signal in unsafe situations to silently ask for help without leaving a digital trace.

If people didn’t see news stories about the Signal, would they have gotten help in situations of abuse?

Tech companies have a major impact on our quality of life, well-being, and work. We all need great digital information access. Our media landscape is essential too—especially for feminist reporters and women and equity-seeking journalists who tell the undertold story, sometimes at great personal cost. They need more space and support to do what they do best.

A weak, non-diverse media landscape and digital news blockages hurt us all. This is not a workable situation. We need a productive path forward for tech companies and media outlets and, most importantly, users themselves.

There are no tech companies or media outlets without users and audiences, who are in no small part women and gender-diverse people in every region of Canada.

For the individual user who won’t be able to rely on search and social platforms to find news, you can try bookmarking trusted, evidence-based news sites and leading organizations doing research and thought-leadership in areas that impact you. You can listen to news podcasts and our podcast, Alright, Now What?, which covers contemporary gender justice matters on regular basis.