Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after participating in an armchair discussion at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Trudeau warns internet regulation could be used to repress citizens, free speech

He argued that he’s found the tech sector to be receptive to self-regulation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says governments need to be wary of taking steps to regulate social media platforms that could be used by authoritarian regimes to further oppress citizens and stifle free speech.

As momentum builds around the globe for regulating tech titans like Facebook and Google, Trudeau made it clear Wednesday that he sees government intervention as a last resort.

He made his case at the kick-off of the Open Government Partnership Summit, a gathering of civil society and government representatives from some 100 countries aimed at promoting more open and transparent governments around the globe.

Among other things, the three-day summit, being hosted by the Canadian government, is to consider ways to combat bad actors who use the internet to spread hatred and extremism, exacerbate societal divisions, sow distrust in democratic institutions and manipulate election outcomes.

Trudeau argued that government regulation is not the solution. Rather, he said the solution lies in governments working with tech giants and citizens to rein in the worst aspects of social media.

“Fundamentally, we can’t look at platforms as automatic antagonists. We recognize the solution doesn’t lie in government’s heavy hand over our internet, over our public spaces,” he said during a conversation with Liz Plank, a journalist with online media outlet Vox.

“What tools a reasonable, democratic, open government like Canada or others might find extremely useful and good to have on protecting citizens and encouraging competition and assuring that platforms take their responsibility seriously, in a different country might be a tool for oppression of citizens or control or really attacking free speech.”

Trudeau added that freedom of speech “is so fundamental to our democracies … there are some really tricky decisions we have to have and we have to have them in conversation.”

A few hours earlier, politicians from Canada and about a dozen other countries wrapped up a three-day gathering in Ottawa aimed entirely at coming to grips with the potential harms social media causes to democracies. The consensus of those who took part — including representatives from Canada’s three main federal parties — was that the tech giants can’t be trusted to regulate themselves and it’s time for government’s to compel them to clean up their act.

Among other things, members of the grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy issued a summons to Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who did not accept an invitation to appear as witnesses.

But Trudeau didn’t join the pile-on. Instead, he argued that he’s found the tech sector to be receptive to self-regulation, recognizing that users will eventually delete their accounts if platforms become “pools of toxicity.”

“When you see a toxicity beginning to spread on platforms, a lot of good people step away from those platforms and you end up with just pools of toxicity that people will find other ways of having these conversations. So it’s very much in the tech sector and platforms’ interest to try and make sure that they’re creating spaces that are valuable to citizens and community.”

Trudeau said he’s prepared to impose regulations if the tech titans don’t take it upon themselves to resolve the problems.

“I’d much rather do it in partnership with platforms but, if it comes down to it, we will take measures that we will regret having to take because our imperative is to keep citizens safe.”

READ MORE: Social media giants in hot seat as politicians consider regulations in Ottawa

READ MORE: Mozilla exec tells Ottawa big data committee he was ‘shocked’ by what Alexa recorded

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

British Comedy coming to Trail

Award-winning duo of James and Jamesy present their holiday comedy, “O Christmas Tea.”

Doukhobor place names form unique subset on Kootenay map

Place Names: Doukhobor place names of West Kootenay/Boundary

Last minute push for Christmas raffle tickets

Tickets are on sale in the Trail hospital lobby weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

2019 Pledge Day for Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital

The 12-hour annual telethon was held at Waneta Mall on Friday, Dec. 6

Celebrate all-things Christmas in Trail, Saturday

Open house in the afternoon, Santa Parade in Trail downtown at 5 p.m.

VIDEO: Feds give update on flying clearance for Santa’s sled

Transport Minister Marc Garneau has this message for the country’s children

Investigators confirm three died in B.C. plane crash

Transport Canada provides information bulletin

Prime Minister sets 2025 timeline for plan to remove fish farms from B.C. waters

Foes heartened by plan to transition aquaculture found in Fisheries minister mandate letter

Canada’s Attorney General looking to larger reforms on doctor-assisted death

The Quebec Superior Court gave Ottawa just six months — until March 2020 — to amend the law

Navigating ‘fever phobia’: B.C. doctor gives tips on when a sick kid should get to the ER

Any temperature above 38 C is considered a fever, but not all cases warrant a trip to the hospital

Wagon wheels can now be any size: B.C. community scraps 52 obsolete bylaws

They include an old bylaw regulating public morals

Indigenous mother wins $20,000 racial discrimination case against Vancouver police

Vancouver Police Board ordered to pay $20,000 and create Indigenous-sensitivity training

Sentencing for B.C. father who murdered two young daughters starts Monday

The bodies of Aubrey, 4, and Chloe, 6, were found in Oak Bay father’s apartment Dec. 25, 2017

B.C. vet talks tips for winter travel with pets

Going to see the vet the day before a trip is never a good idea

Most Read