Meta Faces Criticism in Canada for Blocking News on Facebook Amid Wildfires
Meta Faces Criticism in Canada for Blocking News on Facebook Amid Wildfires

Meta has been accused of endangering lives by blocking news links at a critical time in Canada, when thousands of people fled their homes and desperately needed updates on wildfires that were once widely shared on Facebook. Kelsey Worth, 35, said the situation was “dangerous”. He was one of nearly 20,000 residents of Yellowknife and thousands more in the township ordered to evacuate the Northwest Territories as the wildfires spread.

She described to AFP how “extremely difficult” it was for herself and other evacuees to find verifiable information about the fires in the near Arctic and elsewhere in Canada. “No one can know what’s real and what’s not,” she said. “When you’re in an emergency, time is of the essence,” she said, explaining that, until now, many Canadians have relied on social media for news.

Meta began blocking the distribution of news links and articles on its Facebook and Instagram platforms on Aug. 1 in response to a recent law requiring digital giants to pay publishers for news content. The company has been engaged in a virtual showdown with Ottawa over the bill passed in June but set to take effect next year.

The bill, which builds on similar legislation introduced in Australia, is aimed at supporting a struggling Canadian journalism industry, which has seen a massive loss of advertising dollars and the closure of hundreds of publications over the past decade. It requires companies such as Meta and Google to strike fair business deals with Canadian news and information outlets — worth C$330 million ($250 million) a year, a report to parliament estimates — to share on their platforms, or face legal action. Binding Arbitration.

But Meta said the bill was flawed and insisted that news outlets benefit from sharing content on their Facebook and Instagram platforms to reach readers, not the Silicon Valley company.

profit over safety

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attacked Meta this week, telling reporters that “it’s incredible that a company like Facebook chooses to put corporate profits over (safety) … and keep Canadians informed about things like wildfires.” ’.” Almost 80 percent of Canada’s online ad revenue goes to Meta and Google, which expressed reservations about the new law.

Ollie Williams, director of cabin radio in the far north, called Meta’s move to prevent news sharing “stupid and dangerous”. “In order to protect lives, Meta can temporarily lift the ban and there will be no financial penalty because the legislation is not yet in force,” he told AFP in an interview.

Nicolas Servel of Radio Taiga, a French-language radio station in Yellowknife, noted that some people have found ways to bypass the Meta blockade. They “found other ways to share” information, such as taking screenshots of news articles and sharing them from personal (rather than company) social media accounts, he said.

‘Life and Death’

Several of Canada’s largest newspapers, such as The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, have launched campaigns in an attempt to lure readers directly to their websites. But for many smaller news outlets, workarounds have proven challenging as social media platforms become entrenched. Public broadcaster CBC urged Meta to change its approach in a letter this week.

“Time is of the essence,” wrote CBC President Katherine Tate. “I urge you to consider urgently needed humanitarian action and immediately lift the embargo on vital Canadian news and information for communities dealing with this wildfire emergency.” The need for reliable, credible and up-to-date information can actually be the difference between life and death.”

Meta did not respond to AFP’s request for comment, but declined the CBC’s suggestion. Instead, it urges Canadians to use the “Safety Checkup” feature on Facebook to let others know if they are safe. Meta has proven itself to be a “bad corporate citizen,” said Patrick White, a professor at the University of Quebec in Montreal. “This is a matter of public safety,” he said, adding that he was optimistic that Ottawa would eventually reach an agreement with Meta and other digital giants that addressed its concerns.

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