Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says government rules are coming that will require social-media companies to take down illegal or hateful content.
On Wednesday, Mr. Guilbeault welcomed federally funded reports from the Public Policy Forum and the Canadian Race Relations Foundation that urge the government to act because they say internet giants like Google and Facebook are not doing enough to review and remove dangerous content on their platforms.
“Canadians are now asking their government to hold social media companies accountable for the content that appears on their platforms,” Mr. Guilbeault said in a statement provided by his office. “This is exactly what we intend to do by introducing new regulations that will require online platforms to remove illegal and hateful content before they cause more harm and damage.”
The Public Policy Forum (PPF), an independent policy organization that received Canadian Heritage funding to produce its report, called this week for the creation of a powerful federal regulator to oversee how platform companies moderate content on their sites. The forum also recommended creating an e-tribunal to which Canadians can bring concerns over individual social-media posts.
Also this week, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a federal Crown corporation, released a survey it commissioned from Abacus Data showing 80 per cent support for requiring social-media companies to remove racist or hateful content within 24 hours of it being identified. The survey also found that racialized groups are three times more likely to experience racism online than non-racialized Canadians.
The survey of 2,000 Canadian residents was conducted from Jan. 15 to Jan. 18. It was done online with a representative sample of Canadian adults. Because it was not a random survey, a margin of error could not be calculated.
Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, said social-media companies can’t be trusted to protect Canadians from online harassment, racism and threats.
“This is an important moment where there needs to be rebalancing of the online space,” he said in an interview. “We’ve normalized seeing hate online, and what scares me is that that’s the environment we’re bringing our kids into as they grow up and become who they are.”
Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s fundamental-freedoms program, said she is not opposed to an independent tribunal that resolves disputes over online content, but noted the government has not been clear exactly what it is proposing. If new rules go beyond existing legal definitions of hate speech or attempt to define misinformation, she said that will raise freedom-of-speech concerns.
“The devil really will be in the details,” she said. ”I’m nervous at the prospect of the government deciding on what is true – probably just as nervous as I am about social-media platforms deciding what is true. So I think we need to be really careful about regulation that tries to deal with that problem.”
Conservative MP Alain Rayes said in an e-mail that he appreciated the thoroughness of the PPF report and he’s consulting with interested groups.
“We are waiting impatiently for the government to table a bill so that we can start working on this file,” he said. “The government needs to find the right balance between regulation and preserving freedom of expression, which is so important in our democracy.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus welcomed the PPF’s suggestion that a regulator scrutinize how companies use algorithms to prioritize online content.
“The algorithms are fanning extremism,” he said. “Extremist content has been continually favoured by YouTube and Facebook, and I think it’s led to real-world problems.”
Mr. Guilbeault and three Facebook Canada officials are scheduled to appear on Friday before the House of Commons Committee on Canadian Heritage on the topic of “relations between Facebook and the federal government.”
One of the three officials, Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s global director and head of public policy, issued a statement on Wednesday in response to the PPF report’s call for a new federal social-media regulator.
“We have community standards that govern what is and isn’t allowed on our platform, and in most cases, those standards go well beyond what’s required by law. We agree that regulators should make clear rules for the internet so private companies aren’t making these decisions on their own. We stand ready to collaborate on these complex issues,” he said.
Google Canada and Twitter Canada issued similar statements in response to the PPF report and pledged to co-operate with the Canadian government on developing any new guidelines for social media.
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