Public Opinion and Experts Agree: the Time to Regulate Social Media Has Arrived

1/27, 6:30 AM (Source: GlobeNewswire)

OTTAWA, Jan. 27, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Key to note, is that the Commission and the Assembly have independently arrived at the same conclusion: the Canadian government must undertake urgent action to ensure that social media platforms are subject to regulation in order to adequately protect Canadians from online harms.  

In light of the steep growth in social and democratic harms online, the Public Policy Forum last spring established a Commission and Citizen Assembly to study and provide informed advice on how to reduce harmful speech on the internet without impairing free speech. The Commission comprised seven eminent Canadians, including The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, while the Assembly brought together a randomly selected body of 42 Canadians representing every province and territory as well as the breadth of perspectives and diversity of Canada. The Commission and the Assembly undertook a concurrent though complementary deliberative process, hearing witness testimony from many of the same recognized experts and learning from the insights of an original body of research.

The Findings: Nine months on, the Commission has published its findings alongside those of the Citizens’ Assembly. The Commission has set out an integrated program of six practical steps that rejects a policy of aggressive takedown of content in favour of a citizen-centric approach that places responsibility for hateful and harmful content firmly on the shoulders of platforms and its creators. The program is intended to not only protect but enable democratic participation.

  1. A new legislated duty on platforms to act responsibly.
  2. A new regulator to oversee and enforce the Duty to Act Responsibly
  3. A Social Media Council to serve as an accessible forum in reducing harms and improving democratic expression on the internet.
  4. A world-leading transparency regime to provide the flow of necessary information to the regulator and Social Media Council.
  5. Avenues to enable individuals and groups to deal with complaints of harmful content in an expeditious manner. An e-tribunal to facilitate and expedite dispute resolution and a process for addressing complaints swiftly and lightly before they become disputes.
  6. A mechanism to quickly remove content that presents an imminent threat to a person.

The Commission believes that this made-in-Canada approach to curbing the dissemination of online harms will create a standard of reasonableness around how platforms deal with the harmful content in their domains, with responses modulated to the seriousness and pattern of abuse, and consequences for failure to comply.

The Commission's six-step program built off the 33 strong and far-reaching recommendations put forth by the Citizens’ Assembly.

The Assembly is concerned about the inadequate moderation of harmful speech on digital platforms. The Assembly members strongly believe that the government has been too slow to adopt adequate regulations that ensure the safety of Canadians participating in the digital public sphere. They reject the appearance of a double standard between online and offline behaviours and believe that digital platforms and users alike should be held accountable for their actions.

Available immediately are two comprehensive reports:

  1. The 2020-21 Report of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression; Harms Reduction: A Six-Step Program to Protect Democratic Expression Online, authored by the Commissioners. The Report is the culmination of 20 separate Commission convenings, totalling more than 30-hours of deliberation over a nine-month period, beginning in May 2020. The seven Commissioners are:
    • Rick Anderson, Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy
    • Julie Caron-Malenfant, Director General, Institut du Nouveau Monde
    • Adam Dodek, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa 
    • Amira Elghawaby, Journalist & Human Rights Advocate 
    • Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University 
    • Jean La Rose, Former Chief Executive Officer, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network 
    • The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., C.C., Former Chief Justice of Canada
  2. The 2020-21 Report of the Citizens’ Assembly on Democratic Expression; Recommendations to Strengthen Canada’s Response to New Digital Technologies and Reduce the Harm Caused by their Misuse, authored by a representative body of 42 Canadians.
    • More than 400 Canadians volunteered to participate, from among 12,500 households which were randomly selected to receive an invitation. Visit the Citizens Assembly website to learn more.
    • The Assembly met 18 times, totaling more than 40 hours of deliberations from September to December 2020.

About the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression:

The Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression is a three-year initiative led by the Public Policy Forum to examine and provide informed advice to the Canadian government on how to maximize the democratic potential of the internet while mitigating ‘threats’ that decrease participation, openness, accuracy – features at the very core of democracy.

The Commission will highlight a new challenge relating to digital democracy each year, beginning in April 2020. The Commission will be supported in its annual deliberations by a Citizens’ Assembly of 42 Canadian volunteers led by MASS LBP and an original research program led by the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.

To learn more about this 3-year initiative and how Canada can chart a new course in public discourse and democratic expression online, please contact the Public Policy Forum.

QUOTATIONS

“How does a society deal with its free speech rights if the information highways are clogged with hate and other harms that are disproportionately aimed at women, minorities, Indigenous people, those with non-traditional gender identities? The Commission decided that the current system of content moderation under the sole direction of the platform companies is not and cannot do the job. And that public institutions representing a public interest must step up on behalf of the victims of the deluge and the sanctity of our democracy.”   Edward Greenspon, President and CEO of Public Policy Forum

Available for Media Opportunities: (English Canada)

Edward Greenspon, President and CEO, Public Policy Forum
Michel Cormier, Executive Director, The Commission on Democratic Expression

Commissioners:

  • Rick Anderson, Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy
  • Adam Dodek, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa 
  • Amira Elghawaby, Journalist & Human Rights Advocate 
  • Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director, Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University 
  • The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., C.C., Former Chief Justice of Canada

Citizens’ Assembly:

  • Divya Shastry, ON
  • Cindy Kozak-Campbell, BC
  • Pierre Pilon, QC
  • Bonnie Smith, NS
  • Sara-Jayne Dempster, NT

MEDIA CONTACTS

Communications:
Heather Cavanagh, Director of Communications, Public Policy Forum
hcavanagh@ppforum.ca(email preferred)
613-791-9546 
  
Tomek Sysak, Marketing Specialist, Public Policy Forum
tsysak@ppforum.ca
(email preferred)

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