The Canadian government is joining its G7 allies in calling on social-media companies to find new ways to block hate speech and violent content on their platforms or bear a legal and financial cost for the resulting social harm.
Speaking after a meeting of G7 interior ministers on Friday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter will test the public’s patience if they fail to exercise better control on the content that they help to disseminate around the world.
Mr. Goodale referred to the content posted as part of the March 15 attack on two mosques in New Zealand. Prior to the attack, a 74-page "manifesto” was posted to an online right-wing forum, including a link to a Facebook page where a helmet-camera documented the shooting in a graphic 17-minute video. A gunman went on to kill 49 people in their place of worship.
“The clear message was they have to show us clear progress or governments will use their legislative and regulatory authorities. The message that would get their attention most significantly is when the point is made they may be held legally accountable, and financially accountable, for the social harms that their platforms contribute to and from which they make money," Mr. Goodale said in a telephone interview from Paris.
Mr. Goodale said there was an agreement at the G7 meeting that social-media companies have yet to find the appropriate technology to block violent content from appearing on the platforms and being easily shared.
“Should we treat violent, right-wing extremism just as we would treat a threat from Daesh or ISIL? Yes indeed. It needs to be handled with the same degree of gravity,” he said. “There is a real determination among the G7 countries that we want to see the Internet companies moving faster, being more effective at keeping this stuff off the platforms and prevent it from being shared, prevent it from having the dire consequences that it can have.”
Mr. Goodale said the Canadian government does not have immediate plans to bring in new legislative or regulatory controls over social-media companies, but will insist on “demonstrable” changes.
“Canada will be one of [the countries] demanding that. If we don’t see enough progress fast enough, then we are prepared to act,” Mr. Goodale said.
Social-media companies have relied on artificial intelligence to deal with hate speech and violence on their platforms. Still, the massacre in New Zealand exposed shortcomings in the automated systems that companies say are key to keeping their platforms safe.
Facebook removed 1.2 million attempts to upload copies of the videos in the first 24 hours after the attack, although another 300,000 copies made it through.
YouTube suspended a function that let users search for the most recently uploaded videos, because copies of the attack were going up faster than the site could take them down.