How is Meta’s news ban affecting communications amid Canada wildfires?

Meta began blocking news from appearing across its platforms in Canada this month after prolonged negotiations with the government over Canada’s new Online News Act.

As Canada grapples with its worst ever wildfire season, thousands of Canadians are could now be affected by a shortage of news content across Meta’s platforms.

Meta started banning links to news articles on Facebook and Instagram in Canada in response to the new federal law requiring tech companies in the country to pay news publishers for using their content.

The act was passed in June in an effort to ensure that technology companies, such as Google’s parent company, Alphabet, negotiate commercial deals with news publishers for their content.

Meta has described the legislation as “unworkable” and argued that the only way to comply with the law was to “end news availability for people in Canada”.

Wildfires rage in Canada as thousands of people evacuate cities – video

What does this mean for Facebook and Instagram users in Canada?

People in Canada who use Facebook and Instagram are no longer able to view or post links to outlets including the Guardian, the Washington Post, the New York Times and CBC.

Canada’s heritage minister, Pascale St-Onge, said: “[Meta] would rather block their users from accessing good quality and local news instead of paying their fair share to news organisations.”

The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and others have said the move is dangerous for democracy, damaging for journalism and will fuel the spread of misinformation and fake news.

Meta argues that news content is not a significant source of revenue, and comprises less than 3% of what people see in their Facebook feeds.

This month it said: “We have been transparent and have made it clear to the Canadian government that the legislation misrepresents the value news outlets receive when choosing to use our platforms. The legislation is based on the incorrect premise that Meta benefits unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, when the reverse is true.”

How has the ban affected communication for communities hit by wildfires?

With more than 200 fires burning across the Northwest Territories, officials have ordered 20,000 residents of the city of Yellowknife to evacuate, the first time such an order has been made for a Canadian capital.

But residents of the city have said the lack of news links on Facebook and Instagram means accurate information about the wildfires and evacuation is hard to access on social media.

Officials have said misinformation about the fires is rife on Facebook. They have encouraged people to tune into radio or local media live blogs for accurate updates.

Meta said: “In times of crisis, Safety Check allows people to request support, check on loved ones and access updates from reputable sources. People in Canada can continue to use our technologies to connect with their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organisations.”

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Hibaq Farah