Government should hold social media companies accountable for hate and harassment

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This week, in the third of a three-part series, Chelsea Nash and Mike Lapointe spoke to experts about potential solutions to what appears to be a pandemic of hate, harassment and threats against politicians and other public figures. public.

One thing is clear: there is no easy solution to what is becoming an increasingly toxic political environment in Canada. However, as cybersecurity expert Emily Laidlaw has suggested, one way forward is to standardize the moderation practices of social media companies through legislation.

Regulating social media is not a politically advantageous undertaking – just look at the rollback of Bills C-11 and C-18. But as it stands, the onus is on the victim to report online abuse. This may be acceptable in cases of one-off abuse, but when politicians and other public figures come under assault, it is easy to see how quickly this task becomes overwhelming and untenable.

Hate, harassment and threats against politicians and other public figures in politics, including journalists and judges, for example, naturally deter the public from engaging in political participation and, therefore, erode democracy .

Regulating social media means holding companies that profit from the spread of far-right hate, harassment, threats and conspiracies accountable for their role in allowing this toxicity to spread with any level of speed, reach and unprecedented anonymity.

Social media companies have long used the defense of being mere vehicles of communication, as if it were the postal service or a telephone company. Given that social platforms engage in algorithmic manipulation of information and communication, making certain messages more visible than others, and given that they thus benefit financially from this manipulation, these companies must indeed assume some responsibility for the content they host. .

It is time for Canada to consider how it can mitigate the harms that are perpetuated online and which, as Laidlaw pointed out, have very real consequences around the world. Online is no different from the real world; it’s the real world. Threats and harassment made there should be treated the same as threats and harassment made in person or in a letter. Governments around the world have begun to intervene, and Canada needs to explore how it can do the same.

Ignoring this problem has a potentially fatal price.

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