Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says governments around the world have tried giving Big Tech firms like Facebook the chance to regulate themselves for things like extremism and hate speech.
But the firms have proven they either cannot or will not do so, he said in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
“These platforms can’t regulate themselves. We’ve tried that and it’s simply not working,” he said when asked what the government is doing to try to get social media and technology firms to take responsibility for the content shared and posted on their platforms.
He said he and cabinet colleagues are working on a plan and will be putting forward legislation “in the very near future.”
The goal, he suggested, is to find a way to mirror the protections in place in the physical world to those that should be available to people online.
In Canada, courts have consistently ruled that while freedom of expression is a constitutional right, reasonable limits can be imposed on that right: prohibiting threats, hate speech and incitement to violence, for example.
“We have free speech in our society, but people can’t say everything. You can’t verbally abuse someone,” Guilbeault said. “Well, we’re doing it in the real world. We can do it in the virtual world as well.”
Last week, Facebook Australia threatened to cut off individuals and journalism outlets from sharing news content on the platform in response to a plan by the government there to introduce a bill that would force it and other online giants to share royalties with the media organizations whose content they post.
The company says the plan would force them to chose between “either removing news entirely or accepting a system that lets publishers charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits.”
Publishers have for years warned that social media platforms and other Big Tech firms are unfairly benefiting from the advertising dollars gained from having clicks and eyeballs on the news content posted on their platforms, without sharing any of those benefits with the content creators.
The warning comes amid a decade that has seen innumerable media outlets, particularly local outlets, forced to close as vital advertising revenue dries up and the little remaining moves online.
At the same time, the threat to cut off real news follows years of Big Tech firms like Facebook allowing misinformation to circulate and doing little to shut it down, despite repeated urging from policymakers to get control of the situation.
Guilbeault said he plans to table a bill once the House of Commons returns this fall that will force web giants like Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime and others to create Canadian content.
That’s a requirement already placed on domestic companies like broadcasters.
“We’re going to put some fairness into the Canadian regulatory system, because right now there is no fairness,” he said. “We have Canadian companies that have regulatory obligations and we have international web giants that have none. And that’s unsustainable.”
He added that the government is speaking with Australia as well as France to learn more about how those governments are trying to make web giants compensate news media for sharing their content.
“That’s immoral to me and it’s unacceptable. We want to change that,” he said.
“There are a couple of countries in the world that are moving in that direction — France, Australia. And now we are looking closely and in fact, talking with them: looking at what models they’re doing and how we could go about doing it in Canada as well.”
The government is set to present a Throne Speech on Sept. 23.
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