On Sunday, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault criticized major tech companies like Facebook for their inability and unwillingness to effectively stop the spread of hateful or extremist material on their platforms. Guilbeault indicated that he would be introducing legislation to the Canadian parliament “in the very near future” to address and resolve these concerns.
Speaking on the status quo, Guilbeault stated that “these platforms can’t regulate themselves. We’ve tried that and it’s simply not working.” More pointedly, he also assailed the tech industry’s frequent refrain of wanting to protect free speech by saying, “We have free speech in our society, but people can’t say everything. You can’t verbally abuse someone. Well, we’re doing it in the real world. We can do it in the virtual world as well.”
The remarks come as Facebook threatened to block local and international news to anyone in Australia last week after the Australian government put forward a plan that would require tech companies to share royalties with media organizations whose content is posted on their sites. Critics have quickly pointed out that the company’s willingness to entirely remove material that affects their bottom line contradicts its perpetually ineffectual and half-hearted efforts to remove extremist content, as well their claims to be protectors of free expression.
The developments in both Canada and Australia are the latest in mounting pressure by global leaders to hold tech companies accountable for failing to prevent the spread of harmful content.
This past year, the European Union put forth a proposal to address content moderation and liability issues with major tech companies. The new measures aim to compel tech firms to pay more taxes and take more responsibility for illegal content on their platforms. The EU’s Terrorist Content Regulation proposal generated strong opposition from Facebook and other social media platforms. Additionally, Germany’s NetzDG law has seen significant noncompliance from tech companies, including Facebook. German lawmakers are currently discussing several amendments to the NetzDG.
The tech industry’s blanket liability protection outlined under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act was also challenged this year with the U.S. Department of Justice’s proposals to roll back several of its provisions. The Justice Department offered a legislative plan that would have to be adopted by Congress and would, among other things, remove companies’ immunity in cases involving terrorist content.