| 18 July 2024, Thursday |

Canada wildfires: Trudeau criticises Facebook over news ban amid crisis

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Facebook of putting “profits ahead of people’s safety” after it blocked news amid devastating wildfires in the country.

Facebook banned news on its platform in response to Canadian law forcing it to share profit with news outlets.

Wildfire evacuees have said the ban has impacted their ability to share critical news with each other.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, calls the law “fundamentally flawed”.

The prime minister, during a televised news conference on Monday, said the actions of Meta were “inconceivable”.

The company has blocked news on Facebook and Instagram in Canada since 1 August, after the country’s parliament passed an online news bill that requires platforms like Google and Meta to negotiate deals with news publishers for content.

Meta has faced significant criticism from Canadian officials since then. On Saturday, Canada’s heritage minister, Pascale St-Onge, said in a post on social media that the company is blocking “essential information” for users.

She added that this is being done despite the law – dubbed Bill C-18 or the Online News Act- not going into effect yet. In an earlier post, she called Meta’s decision “reckless”.

Meta has called the law “fundamentally flawed legislation that ignores the realities of how our platforms work”.

In a statement to the BBC, Meta said the law forces the company “to end access to news content in order to comply with the legislation”.

It added that it has activated a “Safety Check” feature on its platform for people living in evacuated areas.

This allows users to mark themselves safe and access “reputable information, including content from official government agencies”, a spokesperson said.

Evacuees in the Northwest Territories, where a wildfire continues to rage 15 kilometres (9 miles) away from its largest city Yellowknife, said the news ban has made it harder for them to spread life-saving information with their network.

Delaney Poitras, who has had to evacuate twice in recent weeks from her home in Fort Smith, told the CBC that she has not been able to share things like news conferences from officials or news articles on evacuation updates.

She adds that Facebook plays a huge role in connecting people in her community. “It’s how we all keep in touch,” she said.

Data suggests that about 77% of Canadians use Facebook, and one in four of those users rely on it for news.