Police services across Canada are grappling with how they will relay emergency information, including breaking news and details of missing persons, once Meta begins permanently removing news from its social media platforms.
Meta is set to remove all news for Canadian users in response to the Liberal government’s Online News Act, which requires some tech giants to pay for news content shared or repurposed on their platforms.
When that happens, police forces won’t be able to count on links from local news outlets popping up in people’s Facebook and Instagram feeds as they scroll, though they will still be able to post their own news releases and other messages.
The Saskatchewan RCMP said Meta’s decision will affect the way they get information to the public and they are currently working through ways they can maximize the distribution of public safety messages.
In Manitoba, the RCMP said they will rely heavily on their own social media accounts to get important information out to the public.
“At the detachment level, in rural Manitoba, our social media has good reach and is immediate and we continue to rely on that for our messaging,” said Tara Seel, a spokeswoman for the Manitoba RCMP.
A spokesperson for the RCMP’s national headquarters said Mounties will also rely on alert systems, news releases and press conferences, while continuing to review new social media platforms that could help with communication.
But it is not entirely clear how Meta’s news ban will affect the way police communicate. Kelly Dehn, director of public affairs for the Winnipeg Police Service, put it bluntly: “We’re not sure what impact it will have.”
When it comes to communicating about public safety, the more eyeballs the better, including through traditional media, Dehn said.
Seel said once the implications become more clear, Manitoba RCMP will adapt.
Police services and other institutions are used to changing the way they communicate with the public because Canadians’ relationships with traditional media have changed in recent years, said Richard Lachman, an associate professor of media production at Toronto Metropolitan University.
“We don’t all watch television, read newspapers, listen to the radio in the same way,” he said.
Dehn agreed, saying police can no longer wait for the 6 p.m. news or news sites to post an article, so they often look for other ways to get information out to the public quickly.
“People are viewing and consuming news on their phones more than ever. So it’s important for us to get the message to them directly,” she said.
The issue was on the minds of the Winnipeg police board long before Meta said it would remove news links.
The board conducts a citizen survey every two years, asking people how they find policing stories.
In its 2022 survey it found the majority of people recalled Winnipeg police news from press releases and press conferences. Another 35 per cent said they recalled seeing police news on their Facebook page, and 12 per cent cited Instagram.
The survey also found about 12 per cent got their police news solely from Facebook. The survey doesn’t clarify whether that was through traditional news stories posted to Facebook or through the police service’s own Facebook page, which has over 119,000 followers, but Dehn suspects it’s a mix of both.
Lachman said police and other institutions need to go where the people are, and Facebook has always had an outsized influence in Canada.
“We’ve actually been strong consumers of Facebook over other platforms. That’s changed a lot with generational shifts to things like TikTok,” Lachman said.
“People are gonna have to shift in our understanding of what the value of media we consume is. We’re going to have to go and try and pull this content directly.”
In the meantime, finding and relaying information will become a game of cat and mouse, Lachman said.
“An organization might say we’ll need to get this message out. We’re trying it through this path. ‘Did that work for you? Did that work for me?’ It’s not healthy,” he said.