Facebook’s news ban ‘won’t impact’ Alberta’s wildfire response, says Premier Danielle Smith

When emergencies hit, ‘news entities will turn over their coverage to make sure people have the information they need,’ said Premier Danielle Smith. She conveyed the province also has mechanisms to relay information promptly.

Facebook’s news ban ‘won’t impact’ Alberta’s wildfire response, says Premier Danielle Smith
Danielle Smith
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith reassured residents Thursday that Meta’s news ban would not hinder access to information during a state of local emergency.

“When communicating pertinent information to residents, does the Meta ban on Canadian news pose a roadblock to disseminating that information?” asked Rebel News. “I don't think so,” replied Smith.

Canadians resorted to sharing screenshots of news copy on social media during last year’s abnormal wildfire season. On August 1, the tech behemoth introduced a news ban in Canada, amid a state of public emergency.

Owing to Bill C-18, the Online News Act, a pop-up notification prevents posts from anyone trying to share stories and inform their friends and family impacted by out-of-control wildfires.

The censor prevents residents from sharing critical news sources as the disasters unfold, including wildfire locations and evacuation plans.

However, Smith said television and radio adopt an ‘all hands on deck approach’ when emergencies hit to relay news. 

“Often what you'll find is that news entities will turn over all their coverage to make sure that people have the information that they need,” she said.

The premier also conveyed that the province has several mechanisms at its disposal to relay information promptly.

“We do situation reports so that we're able to give information that way, and we've also done telephone town halls for affected communities,” Smith told Rebel.

“When we have a major disaster, we make our officials available on a daily basis to be able to give updates sometimes more frequently,” she added.

One resident told CBC News she decamped twice last summer as out-of-control wildfires eviscerated the N.W.T. and threatened lives. 

A wildfire is classified as out of control at approximately 1,500 hectares.

Delaney Poitras of Fort Smith, N.W.T., left for Hay River on August 19, and was on the move again the following day for an evacuation centre in Leduc, Alberta. “I've never been evacuated in my life, and to do it twice in 24 hours, it was scary,” she said.

She attributed the scuffle between Meta and the federal government for antagonizing an already difficult situation, with thousands left in the dark.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge accused Meta of putting ‘profits before safety.’

St-Onge condemned the news censor with tens of thousands of Canadians fleeing their homes to escape raging wildfires. “We need more news right now, not less,” said the minister.

At the time, N.W.T. evacuated its capital, Yellowknife—home to 25,000 residents. Tens of thousands more fled their homes in Alberta under duress.

According to the Alberta government's Wildfire Status Dashboard, the province recorded 973 wildfires then—up from 829 wildfires in 2022. Their intensity surpassed the previous provincial record on June 12 at an estimated 1,400,021 hectares.

“It's time for us to expect more from corporations like Facebook that are making billions of dollars off Canadians,” added Trudeau.

Last summer, Poitras had difficulty sharing information with her Facebook friends. 

“It's difficult to find the correct information to share with all the people I have on Facebook,” she said, “but I try to do my best to make sure that it's correct.”

“In our community, the protective services and the RCMP [went] door to door. I guess some people […] didn't answer the door or weren't aware that this was even going on.”

In response, Meta activated the “Safety Check” feature on Facebook, allowing users to inform loved ones they are safe during a natural disaster or crisis.

"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 organizations," reads an emailed statement from the tech company.

Meta earlier said news sharing constitutes only 3% of Facebook content but did not clarify why the ban remained in place during prior states of local emergency.

On Thursday, Smith said does not anticipate any barriers during states of local emergency this year.

N.W.T. RCMP earlier told Rebel that the news ban did not impact the sharing of information with the public. “We have not heard of anyone having difficulty accessing information related to the evacuation orders,” said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matt Halstead.

Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, chimed in that Alberta’s emergency alert system is also at their disposal. “It worked this year,” he said.

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