Trudeau slams Meta over news access as wildfires rage

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had some choice words to say about Meta’s decision to block news access for Canadian citizens as tens of thousands under threat from raging wildfires are forced to evacuate.

"Facebook is putting corporate profits ahead of people's safety," Trudeau said during a live televised news conference held on Prince Edward Island early Monday.

The PM called Meta’s actions "inconceivable."

Earlier this month, Meta announced they would start to block domestic news access for all Canadians on its Facebook and Instagram platforms to avoid having to pay local media outlets for their content as part of Canada’s recently passed Online News Act.

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

Trudeau has joined several other members of the Canadian Parliament who spoke out against Meta on Friday, calling the company reckless and irresponsible.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wildfires
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls Meta's news ban "inconceivable." Reuters

Part of the reason why Canadian leaders are so irate about Meta’s news ban is that the new legislation, passed in June, is not set to take place until later this year.

“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,” Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge had said in one of her several social media posts on Friday.

Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record, and residents of the Northwest Territories (NWT) and British Columbia (B.C.) – many living in isolated areas – are currently under emergency evacuation orders.

Meantime, many NWT residents have been complaining to local news organizations about the lack of access to important information about the fires under the Meta news blackout.

Additionally, some 300,000 people have visited crisis response pages for Yellowknife, NWT, and Kelowna, British Columbia, to request support, according to Meta.

Meta responded to the criticisms by reinstating Facebook's "Safety Check" feature, which as of Friday, was used by more than 45,000 people to mark themselves safe.

In the wake of the wildfires and safety concerns, St-Onge and other Canadian leaders are vowing to stand up to the tech giant over the new law, which META says is unsustainable for its business because it puts a price on links shared by users.

A Meta spokesperson also said Friday that Canadians can still use its platforms to access information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services, and non-governmental organizations.

Joining Meta, Alphabet's Google has also called Canada's plan "unworkable" and promised to pull news content from its social media platforms, including YouTube, before the bill takes effect.

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