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Justin Trudeau blasts Facebook for blocking news as Canada’s wildfires rage

<i>Brian McInnis/The Canadian Press/AP</i><br/>Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured here.
Brian McInnis/The Canadian Press/AP
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pictured here.

By Catherine Thorbecke, CNN

(CNN) — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blasted Facebook for “putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety” as the social media platform continues to block news content while wildfires rage in Canada’s Northwest Territories and British Columbia.

“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 said during a news conference Monday.

Some 60,000 people across the Northwest Territories and British Columbia have been placed under evacuation orders since this weekend, according to the most recent numbers from Canadian officials. Also on Monday, Trudeau described the devastation wrought by the wildfires as “apocalyptic” and praised Canadians for stepping up to support evacuees.

Earlier this month, Facebook’s parent-company Meta began to block news links from Facebook and Instagram in Canada, in response to recently-passed legislation in the country that requires tech companies to negotiate payments to news organizations for hosting their content.

A Meta spokesperson told CNN in a statement on Monday that Canadians “continue to use our technologies in large numbers to connect with their communities and access reputable information, including content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.”

The new legislation in Canada “forces us to end access to news content in order to comply with the legislation but we remain focused on making our technologies available,” the statement added, pointing to Meta’s Safety Check tool, which the company said more than 45,000 people had used as of Friday to mark themselves as safe.

The Meta spokesperson added that 300,000 people have visited the Yellowknife and Kelowna Crisis Response pages on Facebook.

The Canadian legislation, known as Bill C-18 or the Online News Act, was given final approval in June. It aims to support the sustainability of news organizations by regulating “digital news intermediaries with a view to enhancing fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace.”

Meta has previously stated, via a company blogpost, that the legislation “misrepresents the value news outlets receive when choosing to use our platforms.” The ongoing controversy in Canada comes amid a global debate over the relationship between news organizations and social media companies about the value of news content, and who gets to benefit from it.

During his remarks Monday, Trudeau said Facebook’s move to block news content is “bad for democracy” in the long run. “But right now, in an emergency situation, where up-to-date local information is more important than ever, Facebook’s putting corporate profits ahead of people’s safety,” Trudeau said.

CNN’s Brian Fung contributed to this report.

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