TORONTO — An advocacy group is calling on Canadians to boycott Facebook and Instagram later this week.
The Friends of Canadian Broadcasting group began asking people Monday to stop posting content on Meta’s platforms on Aug. 23 and 24.
The group is planning the boycott to show that Canadians won’t be pushed around by Meta, which decided to pull news from Canadian publishers from its platforms in response to federal legislation.
The Online News Act requires tech giants Meta and Google to make deals with news publishers whose work they link to or repurpose on their platforms to compensate them for their work.
Meta has shown an unwillingness to co-operate on a potential deal, deciding instead to remove news content from its platforms in Canada.
The group’s executive director Marla Boltman says the boycott will show Meta that if news leaves the platform, so will users.
“Eyeballs on their platforms are the most valuable commodity Meta has,” she added in a statement.
“Losing many Canadian users, even for a short period of time, will get their attention. But more importantly, it will give Canadians an opportunity to demonstrate their frustration and disappointment with Meta.”
Meta spokesman David Troya-Alvarez said the company is not commenting on the boycott.
The boycott came as wildfires rip through the Northwest Territories and parts of British Columbia. Because events are moving so rapidly, including evacuation plans, some have called for Meta to reverse its news block.
Under Meta’s ban, those searching for information on the fires and evacuation efforts have had to rely on government and emergency services accounts or visit news websites directly.
Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge urged Meta to reinstate the ability to share Canadian news over the weekend, calling the decision to block Canadian news “reckless and irresponsible” in a post on the platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau echoed her remarks Monday, while speaking in Charlottetown, where he and his new cabinet are holding a retreat this week.
“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 ahead of supporting quality local journalism,” he said.
“This is not the time for that.”
The prime minister positioned Meta’s decision to maintain its news blocking during the wildfires as bad for democracy, which he said depends on people being able to access and trust credible journalism.
It is time for people to expect more from corporations like Facebook that are making billions of dollars off of Canadians, he said.
“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,” he said.
Despite the block, Meta’s Troya-Alvarez said “large numbers” of Canadians are still using its platforms to access content from official government agencies, emergency services and non-governmental organizations.
Meta has counted 45,000 who marked themselves as safe through the company’s Safety Check tool, which allows users to alert family and friends of their status during emergency situations.
Some 300,000 have also visited Meta’s crisis response pages set up for Yellowknife and Kelowna, B.C. to request support, check on loved ones and access information, he added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 21, 2023.
Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press