Regulation of social media Platforms

About

Reference number:
PCH-2020-QP-00084
Date received:
2020-12-10
Organization:
Canadian Heritage
Name of Minister:
Guilbeault, Steven (Hon.)
Title of Minister:
Minister of Canadian Heritage

Issue/Question:

Through the mandate letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Government has committed to creating new regulations for social media platforms, starting with a requirement that all platforms remove illegal content, including hate speech, within 24 hours or face significant penalties. This should include other online harms such as radicalization, incitement to violence, exploitation of children, or creation or distribution of terrorist propaganda. In the Speech from the Throne delivered on September 23, the Government of Canada reaffirmed it’s commitment to take action on online hate. Several news articles recently denounced the scourge of child pornography and called for government intervention in this regard.

Suggested Response:

• Child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children on the Internet is a widespread issue and cannot be tolerated. We intend to take a comprehensive approach with the tabling of a bill in early 2021 that will apply to the various platforms.
• We are working to introduce regulations to reduce the spread of illegal content, including hate speech, in order to promote a safer and more inclusive online environment.
• We want to protect Canadians online, minimize costs for small and medium-sized businesses, and respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Background:

• The mandate of the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH) includes the promotion of a greater understanding of human rights, fundamental freedoms and related values.
• Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, are increasingly central to participation in democratic, cultural and public life. According to Media Technology Monitor (MTM) data, 74 percent of Canadians have used a social media platform in the last month.
• However, social media platforms can also be used to threaten, intimidate, bully and harass people – or used to promote racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, misogynist, and homophobic views that target communities, put people’s safety at risk, and undermine Canada’s social cohesion or democracy.
• Moreover, recent events such as the dissemination of violent extremist material during the Christchurch shootings or the publication of the El-Paso shooter’s manifesto have resulted in public calls for increased regulations and accountability for social media platforms.
• A number of governments in other jurisdictions, such as Germany, Australia, France, the
European Union, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, have proposed or enacted legislation that imposes obligations on online platforms to restrict certain forms of content and activity.
• Currently, a number of the Government of Canada’s departments are working on initiatives to address issues related to social media platform governance.
• The Department of Innovation, Science and Industry is addressing privacy and data issues through its Digital Charter and by providing enhanced powers for the Privacy Commissioner. Global Affairs Canada addresses foreign interference through the G7 Rapid Response Mechanism and Public Safety addresses violent and extremist content online through its Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence and engagements in the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism (GIFCT) and the Five Country Ministerial.
• Efforts to engage with social media companies in order to safeguard the 2019 federal election were spearheaded by the Minister of Democratic Institutions through the modernization of the Canada Elections Act and other initiatives. This included a $7 million investment by PCH to create the Digital Citizen Initiative (DCI). This citizen-focused initiative funds activities to strengthen citizens’ critical thinking about online disinformation, their ability to be more resilient against online harms, as well as their ability to get involved in democratic processes.
• In 2019, as a steward of Canada’s information and media ecosystem, PCH received $19.4 million over four years to expand the DCI to support democracy and social cohesion in Canada by building citizen resilience against online disinformation, establishing partnerships to ensure a healthy information environment, and supporting research, policy development and an international multi-stakeholder engagement strategy on diversity of content online.
• Through the mandate letter to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Government committed to introducing new regulations for social media platforms, starting with a requirement that all platforms remove illegal content, including hate speech, within 24 hours. Other online harms in scope include radicalization, incitement to violence, the exploitation of children and the creation or distribution of terrorist propaganda. The Minister’s mandate letter also includes supporting the work of colleagues on several other initiatives relating to platform governance, including supporting the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry to create new regulations to better protect personal data as well creating a Data Commissioner.
• Building on its existing work to support democracy and social cohesion in Canada, PCH will work with all relevant stakeholders in moving this file forward and is following developments in international jurisdictions closely, and will engage in dialogues with them as needed.
• In Speech from the Throne delivered on September 23, the Government pledged to address systemic racism, and committed to do so in a way informed by the lived experiences of racialized communities and Indigenous Peoples. One of the ways identified is redoubling its efforts, taking action on online hate.
• The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage recently reintroduced motions from the last session, one of which was to “undertake a study of the creation of and implementation of new measures for online media platforms’ internet service providers requiring them to monitor, address and remove content that constitutes hate speech and remove any other content which is illegal in Canada or prohibited by the Criminal Code.” The motion has not yet been adopted and motions from previous sessions do not necessarily reflect the current intentions of the committee.
• The world's most popular pornographic site, based in Montreal, has pledged to adopt tougher practices to protect its platform from illegal content. Only users whose identity has been verified will be able to upload videos and it will be impossible for users to download any videos from the site.

Additional Information:

• It is important to note that crime and police investigations are the responsibility of Public Safety Canada and Justice Canada.
• We are working with other like-minded countries to find the most balanced approach to address this issue.

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