Is Meta promoting state propaganda in BC amid wildfires?


Prime Minister David Eby's dispute with Facebook over access to local news amid wildfires reveals a contentious deal that could impact public safety in British Columbia

Prime Minister David Eby has cracked down on social media giant Facebook over the past nine months, accusing it of endangering the lives of British Columbians by denying them access to trusted and reliable local news sources during wildfire emergencies.

He said parent company Meta was holding citizens “to ransom” in its dispute with Ottawa over online regulations. He refused to meet with any corporate lobbyists until they reconsidered the news ban. He banned government advertising on the platform except in emergencies. And he publicly rebuked CEO Mark Zuckerberg for endangering the province's security.

When the NDP government announced a “historic agreement” with Meta on Wednesday after weeks of negotiations on the issue, one might have expected a change in Facebook's position. Something. Anything.

But it turns out the BC New Democrats had quietly sold the local news industry to Meta in return for a discounted deal on government advertising and the tech company's promise to “amplify” state propaganda directly into the eyes of Facebook and Instagram. User.

“The province is exploring opportunities for technology companies to help expand official information for people in emergency situations such as wildfires,” said a joint statement from Eby and his “online action table” of technology companies.

“Meta has agreed to establish a direct line of communication to ensure that response efforts within the government’s wildfire prevention efforts are closely coordinated, including dissemination of reputable information from official sources, such as government agencies and emergency services.”

Official sources. Government authorities. Not a single mention of local news. A stunning betrayal of everything the Prime Minister had been saying for almost a year.

Last August: “I find it so unacceptable that the ban is still in force,” the Prime Minister said. “It feels a bit like they are holding British Columbians to ransom to make their point to Ottawa.”

Last January: “They cared more about making a statement to the federal government than ensuring reliable local news information was available to communities at risk of wildfires.”

Or: “I again call on Facebook, Mr. Zuckerberg, to open access to Canadian media so that British Columbians can share important local information to keep them safe.”

Or: “This is the time for Facebook and Instagram to use the network that they have built, frankly on the backs of local media, to communicate with British Columbians about what they need to hear, what information they need need and what is happening in their region.” communities.”

It's hard to believe that the NDP gave up all of that in favor of a Groupon campaign at meta ad prices.

Still, full credit goes to Meta's high-priced lobbying team, because they certainly managed to fly into town, tell the Premier to stuff it, fool BC's hapless negotiators, and get back to Toronto in time to to watch the Leafs' next playoff game.

Attorney General Niki Sharma was unrepentant in her explanation of the deal, lecturing completely misinformed reporters that Meta's local news ban was actually “a dispute with the federal government.”

You don't say that.

“Discussions are currently taking place directly between the Ministry of Emergency Management and the platforms about what tools can be available to them to receive information directly from the ministry because at this point in time they felt that this was the most effective thing,” said Sharma.

The attorney general's defense made it seem as if government information, along with local news, had been banned from the platform. But that has never been the case. During wildfire season, there have always been sources from the province on Facebook and Instagram – it's just that they aren't always current, accurate or useful to people.

Consider last summer's dispute in the Shuswap area, where the BC Wildfire Service publicly accused some residents of being “vigilantes” for refusing an evacuation order and staying behind to save their homes with firefighting equipment left behind.

Imagine that statement spreading uncontroversially across the province before residents explained what they were doing (not least through the media), forced a meeting with the premier, and subsequently pushed through changes to BC Wildfire policies that More local volunteer expertise enabled BC Wildfire efforts.

Or consider this week when the British Columbia government is highlighting its ability to house evacuees from Fort Nelson in hotels in Fort St. John. But CBC News' reporting from the scene indicated that many of those evacuees were forced out of their hotels, in part to make room for wildfire personnel.

Under the NDP's “historic” deal, you won't see this annoying story “amplified” on social media. But you'll soon get a healthy dose of misleading government disinformation on your phones about how well the NDP is handling the situation.

BC's deal with Meta is particularly dangerous on the eve of a provincial election. It gives the governing New Democrats an unfair advantage by bombarding British Columbians all summer with inaccurate, partisan and self-congratulatory messages about the NDP's response to the wildfires, while other parties, critics, the media and everyone else Having dissenting opinions about the NDP's performance on the wildfires will be penalized for less treatment on the same platforms.

Meta controls the platform. And now the government controls the embassy. A historic deal indeed. For the wrong reasons.

Rob Shaw has covered British Columbia politics for more than 16 years, now reporting for CHEK News and writing for Glacier Media. He is co-author of the national bestseller A question of trustHost of the weekly podcast Political capitaland regular guest on CBC Radio.

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