Meta began blocking access to Canada’s domestic news sites on August 1.
Maxar Technologies/Handout via Reuters
Meta banned Canadian users from viewing or sharing news content on its platforms August 1.
Now, residents say the ban has prevented people from sharing vital news as wildfires tear through western Canada.
Canada’s Heritage Minister labeled the ban “reckless” and called on Meta to lift it immediately.
Canadians say Meta’s news ban is having tangible consequences as they try to share news about a series of devastating wildfires prompting evacuations in Northwest Territories and British Columbia.
In June, Canadian lawmakers passed a bill that would require companies like Meta and Google to pay news outlets to share their content. In response, Meta banned users in Canada from viewing or sharing news content on its sites beginning August 1.
“Meta’s reckless choice to block news before the Act is in force is hurting access to vital information on Facebook and Instagram,” Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge tweeted Friday. “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 the Facebook group “Yellowknife Current Events,” this reality is all too clear. Here, residents are posting copied-and-pasted versions of news articles and live reported updates to circumvent the ban and continue sharing vital information about the wildfires.
One Northwest Territories resident, Poul Osted, told the BBC residents have resorted to sharing partial screenshots of news stories to keep one another updated on wildfire-related developments, such as the status of highway closures.
“Oftentimes this means you don’t get the whole story, or have to go searching the web for verification,” Osted said.
As of August 19, there are more than 200 active wildfires in the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife — a city of about 20,000 people — and several nearby communities are currently under a Level 3 evacuation order, meaning residents are under orders to leave immediately.
And in British Columbia, just southwest of the Northwest Territories, officials have declared a state of emergency as nearly 400 wildfires burn and thousands are evacuated from the city of Kelowna and the surrounding region, CBC News reports.
A Meta spokesperson told Insider in a statement that people in Canada can still use other features to share information about the wildfires.
“In times of crisis, Safety Check allows people to request support, check on loved ones and access updates from reputable sources,” the spokesperson said. “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.”