Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is accusing Facebook and other global internet companies of harming the democratic process around the world, lambasting them for generating hefty profits while failing to support traditional news operations in Canada.
The Liberal government has often used Facebook and other social media platforms to spread its message since coming to power in 2015, but Mr. Trudeau sharply criticized these companies during a question-and-answer period after a speech in Quebec City on Friday.
In particular, the Prime Minister bemoaned the fact that these companies generate “extraordinary profits that do not go toward the defence of our democracy by our journalists, but rather in the pockets of big companies that do not see this social responsibility as being primary for them.”
Still, he did not promise to impose sales taxes on foreign-based internet companies or to start regulating their operations in Canada. Since Jan. 1, the Quebec government has required international companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google, Netflix and Spotify to collect the provincial sales tax from Quebec customers. Facebook will collect the tax on its ad sales.
In its fall economic update, the federal government announced a $595-million package over five years to help Canada’s media sector, including measures to facilitate fundraising by non-profit news organizations and tax breaks to fund the production of original content.
In his comments on Friday, Mr. Trudeau specifically targeted Facebook, which has come under fire around the world for failing to protect the privacy of its users and spreading false news and disinformation.
“One of the big problems is that there is this space that is not directly under government control nor accountable to citizens in the same way as governments are. If you don’t like Facebook, you can’t vote and change the management at Facebook in the way that you can for a government. This lack of awareness toward their responsibilities is currently harming them in a very, very serious way,” Mr. Trudeau said.
Facebook has been dogged by the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which saw a British consulting firm access the Facebook data of 87 million customers for use in unauthorized ways in political campaigns. After a detailed study, the House of Commons ethics committee issued a report in December calling on the federal government to impose new regulations on social-media companies to prevent hate speech and curb the spread of misinformation.
In a statement, Facebook pointed to a series of initiatives to protect the integrity of the electoral process, including providing more information on the identity of those who run political ads in Canada.
“We are investing heavily in people, partnerships, and technology to keep our community safe, our services secure and to protect election integrity on our platform … Our work is far from done, but we believe our efforts are making a difference and we remain focused on these important issues,” said Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada.
Mr. Trudeau said countries such as Canada have little regulatory sway over internet companies, but he urged them to take responsibility for the content on their platforms.
“We need to have a broad reflection on the Facebooks and Googles of this world, which have started to recognize, very belatedly, their responsibilities toward our democratic space and the conversations that we have as a society. This is going much too slowly on their part, in terms of coming to this realization and taking responsibility,” he said.
“We have to work together, and Canada is actively involved in high-level discussions with leaders of big countries to find ways to ensure that citizens are better informed and have a better capacity to avoid being affected by invisible algorithms,” he added.