JERAA calls on Meta to stop blocking Canadians from receiving news on Facebook and Instagram
August 30, 2023
Meta must negotiate through fair means and not obstruct freedom of speech and rights to obtain and share information
The Journalism Education and Research Association of Australia (JERAA) urges in the strongest terms that Meta cease blocking Canadian Facebook and Instagram users from receiving news through the platform. JERAA’s executive calls for an immediate and unconditional end to Meta’s recent test that limited access to news articles, news images and news reels for up to five per cent of Facebook and Instagram users in Canda and Meta’s progressive extension of the blockage to the whole of the country.
JERAA expresses concern that this is a barrier to the freedom of speech for Facebook and Instagram users and will damage Canadian democracy.
It will also impede the effective delivery of services, public health, and public safety. News media provide critical information in times of crisis and change that help people to survive wildfires, floods and a range of other social and economic challenges.
When such a block was applied by Facebook to Australian users in 2021, it did not just block commercial news services. It also disrupted not-for-profit public broadcasters, community media and student media, journalism education services and journalism professional associations. The blockage in Australia even extended initially to sites such as the Bureau of Meteorology, sites with information about Covid-19 and other critical health matters, and domestic violence services, thus inhibiting the provision of information about major weather events and matters of public health and community safety.
JERAA is furthermore concerned that disinformation will flourish on Facebook and Instagram if users of these social media platforms cannot access information from news services.
Meta has taken these actions in protest at Canada’s new Online News Act that will come into effect at the end of 2023. JERAA’s executive stresses that restrictions on Facebook and Instagram users’ free speech and ability to obtain or share information should only ever occur when it is necessary to prevent breaches of individual or community rights to block content that may cause harm to public health, safety or well-being. It is clear that this latest action by Meta is not being stimulated by any concerns of messages that might cause public harm, such as slander, hate speech, breaches of law, vilification or disinformation.
JERAA urges that Meta learns from its previous experiment with service blockages in Australia. Meta must use its substantive power to engage in fair and reasonable discussion and negotiations with the relevant government and news media institutions rather than apply this ban that will obstruct the free flow of information and have major negative consequences for society.