If you’re looking for links to the Town of Princeton’s website through related community Princeton groups on Facebook, you won’t find them, Mayor Spencer Coyne has told Global News.
Meta, the company that owns Facebook, has reportedly removed several years’ worth of URLs that lead to the official website of the southern B.C. town, which is somewhat of a mystery to Coyne.
“The only place we seem to be able to continue to share is on our official pages, not in community groups,” he explained.
“Everything that’s in those community groups that has a link back to the Town of Princeton website, whether it’s an emergency alert or a meeting schedule or a bylaw — everything’s been scrubbed.”
The municipality can still distribute its updates on its own page, but that has a fraction of the following and engagement of the community groups, he added. Coyne manages a number of them, he added, having started them before he became an elected official.
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Global News has reached out to Meta for an explanation.
Meanwhile, Coyne said he can only speculated as to the reason for the content’s removal.
“That’s the million-dollar question right now,” he said in a Zoom interview. “We’re not a news organization. They’re flagging it as a cybersecurity issue, not as a news ban, so not really understanding the reasoning behind it.”
A screenshot from the Princeton-area community group, Princeton BC & Area Issues, shows Meta’s removal of a URL to the town’s official website. Other impacted groups include Princeton BC Events and Princeton BC and Area Small Business.
Canada unveiled its draft rules for Bill C-18 — the Online News Act — last week. The controversial legislation, passed in June, compels Internet giants to pay news outlets for their content.
It followed complaints from the Canadian media industry, which wants tighter regulation of tech companies to prevent them from elbowing news businesses out of the online advertising market.
Both Google and Facebook have said the law is unworkable for their businesses, and Meta ended news sharing on its platforms in Canada last month.
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Coyne said he has appealed the content removals through Meta’s internal processes, but each application has been denied. The content remains blocked, leaving Coyne “super frustrated.”
“One of the things I have to do today is meet with my team and see how we’re going to communicate in real time with our with our residents,” he said Tuesday.
“We don’t have a radio station, we don’t have a TV station, so we don’t have any other means to communicate directly in an instantaneous manner other than the Internet. And unfortunately for us, most of our residents use Facebook as that medium to be able to get the information as fast as possible.”
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The lack of shareable URLs could have serious impacts in an emergency, he added.
Princeton, which is in the Similkameen region of southwestern B.C., has not had to issue an evacuation orders or alerts in relation to this wildfire season, but if it did, Coyne said the town would need to share the information on its official Facebook page then rely on “personal means” to reach everyone who doesn’t follow their page.
It would have been a big problem in November of 2021, when the town was ravaged by record-breaking floods that killed five people across B.C. and displaced thousands.
“It very much could impact lives. I’m pretty concerned about this,” Coyne said.
“It started Friday and it’s been going on through the weekend, and it’s just making communications extremely difficult right now.”
— with files from Reuters
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