Skip to content

Stop the misinformation wildfire

Thomas Jefferson famously said that if he had to choose between having government but no newspapers or newspapers with no government, he would choose the latter.

Thomas Jefferson famously said that if he had to choose between having government but no newspapers or newspapers with no government, he would choose the latter.

But Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, is about to give us the worst of both worlds: news provided by the government.

About a month ago I wrote a piece on how Facebook has essentially washed its hands of news in Canada.

They did so by turning off the taps on all news links on its platforms in Canada in response to the federal government’s Online News Act, which required companies like Meta to compensate publishers for making money off news content.

There’s a whole host of reasons why that’s dangerous. Having trained an entire generation of people to expect news to come to them on Facebook, a large number of people are becoming increasingly uninformed or misinformed as speculation and bad actors fill the gap left behind.

That’s dangerous enough to democracy, but when lives and property are at stake, it’s even worse.

Enter this year’s fire season. While the first wave hitting Fort McMurray has been thankfully cut short by rain, there’ll be more – and people will be turning to Facebook for information. And local news outlets, crucial players in sorting out fact from fear in a crisis, will be absent due to Meta’s game of chicken with the government.

Some governments, to their credit, have tried to stand up to Meta and try to get them to walk back their terrible decision. There’s the Prime Minister of course – though these days, perhaps it’s best not to have his support.

To our left – literally and metaphorically - British Columbia Premier David Eby has been a staunch ally of local news, imploring Meta to lift its news ban, and refusing to meet with Meta’s lobbyists and forbidding government advertising on their platforms until they do.

Until last week, that is, when the B.C. government announced a deal with Meta where they will amplify emergency evacuation information and provide advertising support for fire safety awareness.

As Glacier Media columnist Rob Shaw pointed out, “It’s hard to believe the NDP abandoned all that for what was effectively a Groupon on Meta ad rates.”

Official sources of information are important in emergency situations – they’re what we use in our own reporting, after all.

But local news outlets can often have more updated information than official sources in fast-moving wildfire situations. They can act to confirm or debunk unofficial information much more quickly than government channels.

There’s another problem with providing government information without verification or accountability, of course. It’s called propaganda, and Meta sets a terrifying precedent for helping government out in this way.

Facebook may wish not to be a news source, but we don’t think they want to be a propaganda organ, either.

They’re going to have to choose.

They should choose to do the right thing – put the government’s information up, and put local news links back while they’re at it.

push icon
Be the first to read breaking stories. Enable push notifications on your device. Disable anytime.
No thanks