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Ottawa proposes plan to regulate social media content

Social media companies like Facebook and Twitter could soon be held accountable for content posted on their platforms, as the federal government proposes a new regulatory framework to tackle hate online.

The government hopes to use the feedback from its proposal to design a new bill to be introduced in the fall. It would complement Bill C-36, a law that Justice Minister David Lametti introduced at the end of Parliament this spring to curb hate speech online.

While Bill C-36 deals with complaints against individuals and websites, this proposal would deal with complaints against social media platforms, officially known as “online communication service providers,” which include Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

If the bill becomes law, social media companies would have to remove harmful content within 24 hours of reporting.

“The efforts of social media platforms are inconsistent and insufficient,” said a backgrounder prepared by the Department of Canadian Heritage which was released to journalists on Thursday. Ministry officials also spoke to journalists on condition that they were not directly quoted.

READ MORE: Lametti introduces bill to tackle hate speech as House rises

The legislation would create new regulatory bodies to monitor social media platforms and draw inspiration from the Criminal Code to target five areas of harmful content: hate speech; sexual exploitation of children; non-consensual sharing of intimate images; incitement to violence; and terrorism.

Neither private communications, such as texting and email, nor telecommunications companies, such as Bell and Rogers, would fall within the scope of the bill.

In addition to the requirement to remove harmful content, social media platforms would be subject to new reporting and preservation requirements.

As a last resort, platforms that consistently fail to comply with orders to suppress child sexual exploitation and terrorist content would be stranded in Canada through a court order.

From 2014 to 2019, the RCMP’s National Child Sexual Exploitation Center received 1,106% more reports of child sexual exploitation, according to the backgrounder.

Additionally, one in five Canadians has experienced hate online, 60 percent of Canadians believe that hate speech online needs to be better regulated, and 80 percent support demands to remove harmful content within 24 hours.

The ministry said the definition of hate speech in the new legislation would be aligned with the definition in C-36, which will: separately address hate speech and hate crimes; offer improved remedies to victims; and hold individuals accountable for the hatred they spread.

C-36 considers hate communication speech if it expresses “the detestation or defamation of an individual or a group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination”, according to a published backgrounder by the Ministry of Justice in June.

The government’s new proposal, which was released Thursday to address social media platforms, is separate from Bill C-36 because the information for Canadians and stakeholders that is in both frameworks is very detailed, said a heritage ministry official, adding that the government realizes the issue is complex.

“Rather than going directly to the tabling of a bill, the government is transparent on the scope of this bill, so it has the possibility of making adjustments before tabling it in the fall”, declared the manager.

This story has been edited after publication.

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