Canada wildfires: Trudeau slams Facebook for blocking news amid crisis

Canada wildfires: Trudeau slams Facebook for blocking news amid crisis
  • Written by Nadine Youssef
  • BBC News, Toronto

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WATCH: Trudeau slams Meta’s decision to withhold news during bushfire emergency

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Facebook of putting “profits before people’s safety” after it withheld news amid the country’s devastating wildfires.

Facebook has banned news on its platform in response to Canadian law that forces it to share profits with news media.

Bushfire evacuees said the ban affected their ability to share important news with each other.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, called the law “fundamentally flawed”.

During a televised press conference on Monday, the prime minister said Mita’s actions were “unimaginable”.

The company has blocked news on Facebook and Instagram in Canada since Aug. 1, after the country’s parliament passed an online news bill that would require platforms like Google and Meta to negotiate deals with news publishers regarding content.

Meta has faced significant criticism from Canadian officials since then. On Saturday, Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a social media post that the company is withholding “essential information” from users.

She added that this was being done even though the law – dubbed Bill C-18 or the Online News Act – had not yet gone into effect. In an earlier post, she described Mita’s decision as “reckless”.

Meta called the law “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms operate.”

In a statement to the BBC, Meta said the law obliges the company to “terminate access to news content in order to comply with the legislation”.

It added that it had activated the “Safety Check” feature on its platform for people living in the evacuated areas.

A company spokesperson said this allows users to rate themselves safe and access “reputable information, including content from official government agencies”.

Evacuees in the Northwest Territories, where wildfires are still burning 15 kilometers (9 miles) from its largest city, Yellowknife, said the news ban made it difficult for them to spread life-saving information across their network.

Delaney Poitras, who has had to be evicted twice in recent weeks from her home in Fort Smith, he told CBC They weren’t able to share things like officials’ news conferences or news articles about evacuation updates.

She adds that Facebook plays a big role in connecting people in her community. “This is how we all keep in touch,” she said.

Data shows that around 77% of Canadians use Facebook, and one in four of these users rely on it for news.

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