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Facebook News Ban Is Risking Lives in Wildfires, Say Eby and Trudeau

Meta urged to lift restrictions to allow people to share reporting during crisis.

Andrew MacLeod 23 Aug 2023The Tyee

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria and the author of All Together Healthy (Douglas & McIntyre, 2018). Find him on Twitter or reach him at .

In separate comments this week B.C. Premier David Eby and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted the massive social media company Meta for maintaining its ban on Canadian news during the ongoing wildfire emergency.

“I find it astonishing that we are at this stage of the crisis and the owners of Facebook and Instagram have not come forward and said, look, we're trying to make a point with the federal government, but it's more important that people are safe,” Eby said during a wildfire update in Vancouver Monday.

“It feels a bit like they're holding B.C.ers for ransom to make a point with Ottawa and I just can't express how unacceptable that is when we see local companies bending over backwards to support local residents,” he said. “I, again, urge them to reconsider that ban.”

In what has already been a record year for wildfires in the province, there were 386 fires burning as of Monday, over 27,000 people under evacuation orders and at least another 35,000 on evacuation alert. Eby declared a provincial state of emergency Friday due to the fires.

“Open up access to Canadian media so that British Columbians can share critical local information so they can be safe,” Eby said in a direct appeal to Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “It's incredibly frustrating to me that we have to be making this call at this stage in the crisis, but I hope that common sense prevails there, but currently it seems to be in short supply.”

Trudeau, who was in Prince Edward Island, was widely quoted making similar comments.

“Right now in an emergency situation, where up-to-date local information is more important than ever, Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety, ahead of quality local journalism,” Trudeau said. “This is not the time for that."

Many Canadians spend a lot of time online using social media including Facebook and they turn there for up-to-date local news, Trudeau said.

"We're simply saying that in a democracy, quality local journalism matters. And it matters now more than ever before, when people are worried about their homes, worried about communities, worried about the worst summer for extreme weather events we've had in a long, long time."

Ealier this summer Meta began blocking access to Canadian news, including The Tyee, as the dispute over Bill C-18, the Online News Act, escalated. The federal act, which passed June 22, requires companies like Meta and Google to enter deals with Canadian news organizations to pay them for the news content appearing on their platforms.

“We have been clear since February that the broad scope of the Online News Act would impact the sharing of news content on our platforms,” a Meta spokesperson said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “We remain focused on ensuring people in Canada can use our technologies to connect with loved ones and access information, which is how more than 65,000 people have marked themselves safe and around 750,000 people have visited the Yellowknife and Kelowna crisis response pages on Facebook.”

Canadians can still get news online directly from news outlets, mobile news apps and by subscribing to publishers, they said.  [Tyee]

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