The ongoing wildfires in Greater Kelowna and Yellowknife have caused widespread devastation and displacement for thousands of residents. However, the situation has been exacerbated by Meta’s news censorship, leaving people in the dark and unable to access crucial information during this crisis.
One resident, Delaney Poitras, shared her harrowing experience of being evacuated twice in 24 hours. She expressed her fear and frustration, stating that the battle between Meta and the federal government has made an already difficult situation even worse. Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced on June 22 that it would no longer allow the sharing and accessing of news copy on its platforms. This move came after Facebook had already restricted access to news for 1.1 million Canadians earlier in the month, which was deemed as “pure intimidation tactics” by former Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez.
The Online News Act, also known as Bill C-18, requires tech giants to enter into revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers. Although the bill is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, Meta wasted no time in blocking Canadian news for Canadian users on August 1. As a result, residents are unable to share critical news sources, such as wildfire locations and evacuation plans, as the disasters unfold. This lack of access to information is particularly concerning given that states of emergency have been declared in B.C. and the Northwest Territories due to encroaching forest fires.
Canadian users have resorted to sharing screenshots of news articles on the crisis as Facebook pages belonging to news outlets, including the state broadcaster and a local Yellowknife station, are devoid of content. The pop-up notification implemented as part of Bill C-18 prevents anyone from sharing stories and informing their friends and family affected by the wildfires. Ollie Williams, the editor of Cabin Radio, criticized Meta’s decision to ban news as “stupid and dangerous” and placed blame on Parliament for starting the conflict.
Despite the ban, residents have been resourceful in promptly sharing screenshots of wildfire information to keep people informed. However, the situation remains dire, with over 2,400 properties under evacuation orders and more than 4,800 properties under alert. Kelowna has declared a state of emergency, resulting in the cancellation of all flights at the local airport.
Canada’s new Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge, publicly condemned Meta for prioritizing its own interests over people’s lives. She expressed disappointment in the company’s decision to abandon news sharing before the bill is fully implemented, instead of participating in the consultation process to ensure appropriate regulations are in place. St-Onge called on Meta to reinstate news sharing immediately for the safety of Canadians facing the wildfire emergency. However, Meta responded by stating that users can still connect with their communities and access reputable information from official government agencies, emergency services, and non-governmental organizations.
The lack of access to accurate and timely news is causing significant challenges for residents. Poitras highlighted the difficulty in finding correct information to share on Facebook, while some people may not even be aware of the evacuation orders due to the limited dissemination of information. Rebel News contacted local RCMP for comment on the impact of censorship on relaying pertinent information to the public. According to RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matt Halstead, they have not received reports of difficulties accessing information related to the evacuation orders as they rely on their own news releases, website, Facebook, and Twitter accounts to disseminate information. The responsibility for issuing evacuation orders and providing information lies with the territorial government, which had yet to respond to Rebel News’ inquiries.
Overall, the news censorship by Meta has created significant challenges for residents affected by the wildfires, leaving them without access to critical information. It is crucial for the government and tech giants to find a solution that ensures the safety and well-being of Canadians during emergencies while respecting the importance of journalism and access to news.