May 28, 2024
“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,” Trudeau said at a news conference.

By ROB GILLIES | Associated Press

TORONTO  — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday accused Facebook of putting profits over people’s safety during the emergencies created by Canada’s record wildfire season.

Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced earlier this summer it would keep its promise to block news content from Canada on its platforms because of a new law that requires tech giants to pay publishers for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online.

Fires raging in Canada have pushed tens of thousands of people from their homes and threatened cities such as Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories. About 30,000 people were under evacuation orders in British Columbia.

“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,” Trudeau said at a news conference in Cornwall on Prince Edward Island.

“It is so inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits ahead of insuring that local news organizations can get up to date information to Canadians,” the prime minister said.

Government ministers called on Meta on Friday to lift its Canada news ban, which applies to local outlets as well as national media such as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The company, which is headquartered in Northern California, stood by its decision and said in a statement about the wildfires that people in Canada can continue to use Instagram and Facebook “to connect with their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.”

The country’s residents and visitors are not able to view or share news on the Meta-owned social networks, including news articles, videos and audio posted by outlets inside or outside of Canada.

Meta has not been alone in its action. Google’s owner, Alphabet, also said it planned to remove Canadian news links in response to the new law, although it hasn’t followed through yet. The Online News Act, passed in late June after lengthy debate, is set to take effect later this year.

“This is Facebook’s choice,” Trudeau said. “In a democracy, quality local journalism matters, and it matters now more than ever before when people are worried about their homes, worried about their communities, worried about the worst summer for extreme events that we’ve had in a very long time.”

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British Columbia Premier David Eby said it is unacceptable that Meta hasn’t reversed its decision to block Canadian news from being shared online.

“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 ‘We’re trying to make a point with the federal government, but it’s more important that people are safe,’” Eby said.

He added that many people in British Columbia rely on media shared through Facebook to access information about the wildfires.

Meta took similar steps in the past. In 2021, it briefly blocked news from its platform in Australia after the country passed legislation that would compel tech companies to pay publishers for using their news stories. It later struck deals with Australian publishers.

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Associated Press Writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, British Columbia, contributed to this report.

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