Facebook won’t lift ban in Canada even for sharing wildfire info

[1/2]A satellite image shows wildfires burning near Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada August 16, 2023. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS Acquire Licensing Rights

OTTAWA, Aug 18 (Reuters) – The Canadian government on Friday demanded that Meta (META.O) lift a “reckless” ban on domestic news from its platforms to allow people to share information about wildfires in the west of the country.

Meta started blocking news on its Facebook and Instagram platforms for all users in Canada this month in response to a new law requiring internet giants to pay for news articles.

Some people fleeing wildfires in the remote northern town of Yellowknife have complained to domestic media that the ban prevented them from sharing important data about the fires.

“Meta’s reckless choice to block news … is hurting access to vital information on Facebook and Instagram,” Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said in a social media post.

“We are calling on them to reinstate news sharing today for the safety of Canadians facing this emergency. We need more news right now, not less,” she said.

Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez earlier said the ban meant people did not have access to crucial information.

Chris Bittle, a legislator for the ruling Liberal Party, complained on Thursday that “Meta’s actions to block news are reckless and irresponsible.”

Ollie Williams, who runs Yellowknife’s Cabin Radio digital radio station, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that people were posting screen shots of information on Facebook since they could not share links to news feeds.

In response, a Meta spokesperson said by email that the company had activated the “Safety Check” feature on Facebook that allows users to spread the word that they are safe in the wake of a natural disaster or a crisis.

Canadians can use Facebook and Instagram to access content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations, the spokesperson added.

Meta says users do not come to its platform for news and forcing the company to pay for content shared on its platforms is unsustainable for its business.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Josie Kao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Covers Canadian political, economic and general news as well as breaking news across North America, previously based in London and Moscow and a winner of Reuters’ Treasury scoop of the year.

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David Ljunggren