The Canadian government on Friday asked Meta to lift a “reckless” ban on domestic news on its platform to allow people to share information about wildfires in the country’s west.

Meta began blocking news on Facebook and Instagram for all users in Canada this month in response to a new law requiring internet giants to pay for news articles.

Some people fleeing wildfires in the remote northern town of Yellowknife complained to national media that the ban prevented them from sharing vital data about the fires.

Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a social media post: “Meta’s reckless choice to block news…is compromising access to vital information on Facebook and Instagram.”

“We’re calling on them to resume news sharing today to keep Canadians safe facing this emergency. We need more news now, not less,” she said.

Transport Secretary Pablo Rodriguez said earlier the ban meant people were cut off from vital information.

Ruling Liberal MP Chris Bute complained on Thursday that “Meta’s actions to suppress the news are reckless and irresponsible.”

Ollie Williams, who runs the Yellowknife Cabin Broadcasting digital radio station, told the CBC that people were posting screenshots of information on Facebook because they couldn’t share links to their news feeds.

In response, a Meta spokesperson said by email that the company has activated a “safety check” feature on Facebook that allows users to spread the word that they are safe after a natural disaster or crisis.

Canadians can use Facebook and Instagram to access content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations, the spokesperson added.

Meta said users would not visit its platform for news, and forcing the company to pay for content shared on its platform was not sustainable for its business.

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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