Trudeau accuses Meta of putting 'profit before safety' in censor of wildfire news

Though Bill C-18, the Online News Act, is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, Meta wasted no time banning Canadian users from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram as of August 1.

Trudeau accuses Meta of putting 'profit before safety' in censor of wildfire news
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Meta of putting 'profits before safety' as the tech behemoth maintained its news ban during a state of public emergency.

"Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people's safety," Trudeau told reporters on Monday, calling the company's actions "inconceivable."

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

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 the out-of-control wildfires.

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

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 news access 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 mandates that tech giants enter revenue-sharing agreements with news publishers.

Meta spokesperson Rachel Curran told a senate committee hearing in May that the company objects to compensating publishers for their content. She claimed the more than 1.9 million news content clicks in Canada last year provided media with "free marketing worth more than $230 million in estimated value."

"We are being asked to compensate them for an activity that benefits them from a monetary perspective," she said

Taxpayers already subsidize media annually at over $600 million — in addition to the $1.2 billion that comprises 70% of the CBC's budget.

Though the censorship bill is expected to be fully implemented by the end of the year, the tech behemoth wasted no time banning Canadian users from sharing news on Facebook and Instagram starting August 1.

The prime minister's comments follow criticism issued by his heritage minister last week, who accused Meta of risking people's lives by not revoking the news censor with tens of thousands of Canadians fleeing their homes to escape the raging wildfires.

"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," said Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge.

On Friday, she said 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 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, dodging whether they would end the ban during the unprecedented crisis.

Canadians 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.

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. 

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