As Greater Kelowna and Yellowknife residents seek refuge from unrelenting wildfires, Meta's news censorship has worsened an already difficult situation for tens of thousands of people.
Delaney Poitras of Fort Smith, N.W.T., decamped last Saturday to be with loved ones in Hay River as emergency personnel combat the blaze near her community. But again, she bolted as Hay River received an urgent evacuation order the following day.
"I've never been evacuated in my life, and to do it twice in 24 hours, it was scary," she told the CBC from a temporary evacuation centre in Leduc, Alberta.
Poitras said the ongoing bout between Meta and the federal government had worsened a difficult situation, with thousands left in the dark from the outset.
On June 22, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, announced it would no longer permit sharing and accessing news copy on its platforms.
Facebook restricted access to news on its platform for 1.1 million Canadians earlier that month — a move then-Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez called "pure intimidation tactics."
Bill C-18, the Online News Act, mandates that tech giants enter revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers.
Though the censorship bill is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, the tech behemoth wasted no time banning access to Canadian news for Canadian users on August 1.
The censor prevents residents from sharing critical news sources as the disasters unfold, including wildfire locations and evacuation plans.
Meanwhile, B.C. and the Northwest Territories have declared states of emergency as raging forest fires encroach on cities, including West Kelowna and Yellowknife.
As of writing, tens of thousands have fled their homes under duress from evacuation orders.
Canadians like Poitras have resorted to sharing screenshots of news copy on the crisis as Facebook pages belonging to outlets, including the state broadcaster and local Yellowknife station Cabin Radio, are empty.
Owing to Bill C-18, a pop-up notification prevents posts from anyone trying to share stories and inform their friends and family impacted by the out-of-control wildfires.
Ollie Williams, the editor of Cabin Radio, called out Meta's "stupid and dangerous" move to ban news. He also attributed blame to Parliament for starting the fight.
"Clearly, I'm not a fan of news being banned, but I want to make very clear that I'm not a fan of anyone involved in it — and I think there are lots of actors," he told CBC.
Williams lauded residents for quickly sharing screenshots of information on the wildfire to inform people promptly.
Canada's new Heritage Minister, Pascale St-Onge, publicly condemned the social media giant Friday for risking people's lives on its two social media platforms.
"Facebook has decided to abandon news even before the bill is fully in effect instead of participating in the consultation process and helping us make sure that the regulation is right and that it's good," she said.
"That's a choice and a decision that they made. And now we see that it is putting people's lives at risk."
St-Onge added the federal government would commence Bill C-18 consultations in the coming days but has yet to hear from the company on whether they will participate.
"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."
In response, Meta said the company 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," said a spokesperson in an emailed statement.
In June, the tech behemoth said news sharing constitutes only 3% of Facebook content, refusing to clarify whether they would end the ban during the unprecedented crisis.
"It's difficult to find the correct information to share with all the people I have on Facebook," added Poitras, "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."
Rebel News reached local RCMP for comment on censorship's impact in relaying pertinent information to the public.
"We have not heard of anyone having difficulty accessing information related to the evacuation orders," said RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Matt Halstead.
"The Northwest Territories RCMP has been relying on our news releases and the RCMP.ca website as well as our own Facebook and Twitter accounts to spread information."
He noted that the territorial government bears responsibility for issuing evacuation orders and providing information about resources and evacuation centers.
"The RCMP has not been the agency relaying this information to the public, including the residents of Enterprise," he said, a N.W.T. town recently burned to the ground by the blaze.
Rebel News also contacted the territorial government, which had yet to reply by the time of writing.