Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Facebook of putting “corporate profits ahead of people’s safety” on Monday after the platform blocked access to news content while Canadians deal with devastating wildfires.
Facebook began banning news on Aug. 1 following a Canadian law approved earlier this summer requiring tech companies to negotiate payments to news outlets for content posted on their platforms.
“It is so inconceivable that a company like Facebook is choosing to put corporate profits ahead of ensuring that local news organizations can get up-to-date information to Canadians, and reach them where Canadians spend a lot of their time; online, on social media, on Facebook,” Trudeau told reporters during a news conference on Monday.
Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said the law forces it “to end access to news content in order to comply with the legislation” in a statement to the BBC. The company noted there is a “Safety Check” feature available to people living in evacuated areas that allows users to mark themselves safe and gives them access to “reputable information, including content from official government agencies.”
Trudeau said Facebook’s ban is “bad for democracy because democracy depends on people being able to trust high-quality journalism and of all sorts of different perspectives and points of view.”
“Right now, in an emergency situation, up-to-date local information is more important than ever,” he added.
The prime minister mobilized the military to help put out wildfires spreading in British Columbia as the western province experiences flames that prompted evacuation orders for tens of thousands of people.
Evacuees in the Northwest Territories, where a wildfire continues to burn nine miles away from its largest city of Yellowknife, told BBC that the ban has made it difficult for them to share life-saving information.
Under the new law, people in Canada cannot view or share news on Facebook and Instagram, including articles, videos and audio published by news organizations inside or outside of the country though content shared by Canadian outlets can still be viewed in other countries.
Meta previously said that the Online News Act is “based on the incorrect premise that Meta benefits unfairly from news content shared on our platforms, when the reverse is true. News outlets voluntarily share content on Facebook and Instagram to expand their audiences and help their bottom line.”
Alphabet, which owns Google, has criticized the law and said it also plans to block news in Canada.