Facebook says it would welcome increased regulation by the Canadian government, including rules for what kind of content should — or should not — be allowed on social media platforms.
In an interview with CBC News, Kevin Chan, global director and head of public policy for Facebook Canada, said Parliament should make clear what kinds of content aren’t allowed.
“On this question of content regulation, we think that having platforms make decisions about all these things and in an uncoordinated fashion with different platforms having different postures, we think that’s not sustainable,” he explained. “So we think that public rules by Parliament would help clarify these things and obviously apply across the internet.”
Chan said Facebook already removes content considered illegal in Canada such as hate speech, revenge porn, and content involving child exploitation or terrorism. It also applies other Canadian laws such as removing ads for things like baby walkers that Health Canada has prohibited for sale in Canada.
Chan said Facebook also goes further and removes content that isn’t illegal in Canada such as posts involving nudity, bullying or harassment. While Chan said Facebook has a sophisticated system in place, he said it would welcome a move by Parliament to help draw the line between prohibited and allowable content.
“We would welcome further rules. We would welcome further guidance and we would … welcome rules that apply to everyone equally.”
Chan said Facebook would also like to see stronger privacy legislation and has called for changes in tax provisions such as collecting and remitting sales tax to the government.
However, Chan said it would be a mistake for Canada to try to follow Australia’s attempt to force tech giants to pay news media for their content shared on Facebook.
“Some of the ideas that we’ve seen discussed, such as the ones proposed in Australia where Facebook would be required to pay for links that are shared on our platform that we don’t control, is going to be unworkable, we wouldn’t be able to make that work because that’s just not how things get shared onto Facebook.”
Legislation on tech giants expected
Chan’s comments come as he and Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault are each scheduled to testify separately today before the House of Commons heritage committee on the relationship between Facebook and the government. The hearing was convened following a news report last fall suggesting that the tech giant’s relationship with some Canadian government officials was too cozy.
In his latest mandate letter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau charged Guilbeault with ensuring that the revenues of web giants are shared more fairly with creators and the media. Guilbeault is also tasked with making sure social media companies to “take action on combating hate groups and online hate and harassment, ideologically motivated violent extremism and terrorist organizations.”
Camille Gagné-Raynault, press secretary to Guilbeault, said the government is planning to introduce two separate pieces of legislation related to tech giants. The first, which they plan to introduce this winter, will address “online harms.”
“For the other one, we are currently exploring options for a made-in-Canada formula that would ultimately lead to a comprehensive, coherent and equitable digital framework for both Canadian news publishers and digital platforms.”
Social media platforms scrutinized
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been in the spotlight in recent weeks after right-wing demonstrators stormed Washington’s Capitol building. In the wake of the riot, Facebook and Twitter suspended former President Donald Trump’s accounts.
However, as social media giants have exerted more control over what is posted on their sites, those whose content was removed have gravitated to other platforms like Parler, Gab, Telegram or Omega Canada.
It is not clear whether the Canadian government could impose Canadian laws on sites that are used by Canadians but which are not located in Canada.
Chan said Facebook has been steadily toughening up its community standards over the past two years, removing groups and individuals that advocate things like white supremacy. More recently, Facebook removed militarized social networks from its platform and QAnon conspiracy sites.
Chan said Facebook is working with Canadian experts like Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, to identify extremist content and block it. But as Facebook removes things like hate speech, those trying to disseminate it try to find ways to get around Facebook’s systems.
“If we start removing certain people, certain presences on Facebook and Instagram, it is very possible that they evolve their tactics and try to work around our enforcement measures,” said Chan. “This is an ongoing security matter for us and as they evolve, we will evolve.”
Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at [email protected].