British Columbia’s premier issued a direct plea to the head of Meta on Monday as he implored the social media giant to reinstate access to Canadian news on its platforms amid the province’s ongoing wildfire crisis.
David Eby said it feels as though the social media giant is holding the province “ransom” in its ongoing spat with the federal government while it continues to ban news sharing on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.
During a wildfire briefing Monday, Eby implored the company and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to open up access to critical information that could help keep residents safe as the province grapples with devastating wildfires that have forced thousands of people from their homes.
“This is not a time for making that political point,” he said. “This is a time for Facebook and Instagram to use the network that they built, frankly on the backs of local media, to communicate with British Columbians about what they need to hear, what information they need, about what’s happening in their local communities.”
.@Dave_Eby blasts @Meta for limiting Canadian news during wildfire. Says it's "astonishing" public officials are being shut out of distributing emergency information at this stage of a crisis, directly appeals to Mark Zuckerberg to intervene.
— Rob Shaw (@RobShaw_BC) August 21, 2023
Eby said Meta’s decision to permanently ban Canadian news on its platforms is “incredibly frustrating” and he hopes “common sense prevails.”
“It feels a bit like they’re holding British Columbians 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.
Meta’s decision to block news came in response to Canada’s Online News Act, which will require tech giants to make deals with news publishers whose content they link to or repurpose on their platforms to compensate them for their work.
Meta showed an unwillingness to co-operate on a potential deal and decided to remove news content from its platforms in Canada instead.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed Eby’s frustrations earlier in the day at a news conference in Charlottetown.
“It is so inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits ahead of ensuring local news organizations can get up-to-date information to Canadians and reach them where Canadians spend a lot of their time online,” he said. “… Instead of making sure that local journalists are fairly paid for keeping Canadians informed on things like wildfires, Facebook is blocking news from its sites,” he said.
Trudeau said the move had ramifications beyond the current urgent situation in B.C., where roughly 380 wildfires are burning and about 27,000 residents are under evacuation orders.
“In a larger picture, it’s bad for democracy because democracy depends on people being able to trust high-quality journalism of all sorts of different perspectives and points of view,” Trudeau said. “But right now, in an emergency situation, up-to-date, local information is more important than ever.”
Meta did not respond directly to the remarks from Eby and Trudeau, but issued a statement on Monday saying it has been clear that the scope of the act would impact the sharing of news.
“We remain focused on ensuring people in Canada can use our technologies to connect with loved ones and access information,” the statement said.
The company touted features that allow people to mark themselves safe in emergency situations and noted thousands of Canadians had done so during the wildfires in both B.C. and the Northwest Territories.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2023.