No 'magic bullet' to solve toxic social-media content, LeBlanc says

OTTAWA — There is no magic legislative bullet to control objectionable content on social media, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc says.

LeBlanc told a virtual conference on democracy Wednesday if there were a simple answer, many other western democracies would have already passed such laws. In general, LeBlanc said, he favours countering false information rather than restricting it.

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The internet and social-media platforms must be a home for free speech, a critical part of any democracy, he said.

LeBlanc added that they should not be forums for hate speech, racism and disinformation.

"But at the end of the day, I don't think citizens want governments to regulate content on the internet. That's not at all appropriate," he said.

"I'm not naive enough to think that there's a simplistic answer or that some piece of legislation in this sphere is going to be a magic bullet."

The minister was speaking at a session called "Making Technology Work for All People" at the DemocracyXChange Summit.

LeBlanc advocated educating online users, requiring social-media companies to be more transparent and publicly criticizing platforms when they fail to live up to commitments.

"Our approach has been to start with compulsory transparency," LeBlanc said.

He pointed to a federal requirement that platforms keep a publicly accessible registry of political ads during both the electoral pre-writ and writ periods, so that Canadians can easily find out who is posting online ads.

"You can also name and shame platforms or other organizations that fail to take effective action, or fail to comply with commitments they have celebrated publicly," LeBlanc said.

"I don't think any large, global business wants to attach itself to very worthy objectives … and then be called out for having been completely lax or ineffective at trying to implement their own commitments."

There are widespread concerns that everyone from hatemongers to conspiracy theorists has been able to spread dangerous messages through social media.

Facebook said this week it was updating its hate speech policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust.

"Organizations that study trends in hate speech are reporting increases in online attacks against many groups worldwide, and we continue our efforts to remove it," Facebook said.

The social media giant said it had banned more than 250 white-supremacist organizations and updated its policies to address militia groups and QAnon conspiracy spreaders.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2020.

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