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New federal watchdog proposed to keep harmful content off social media platforms

Last Updated Jul 29, 2021 at 11:56 am MDT

Apps for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are seen on a phone. (UNSPLASH/dole77)

The federal government says it plans to create a new watchdog to regulate social media and combat harmful online content in Canada.

The proposed legislation, scheduled to be introduced this fall, is part of an overall strategy intended to combat hate speech, terrorist content and child sexual exploitation on major social media platforms such Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, and Pornhub.

“The Government of Canada is committed to confronting online harms while respecting freedom of expression, privacy protections, and the open exchange of ideas and debate online,” reads a discussion guide released on Thursday which outlines the government’s vision for what it calls a safe, inclusive and open online environment.

“The new legislative and regulatory framework would target the most egregious and reprehensible types of harmful content online, including criminal content and content of national security concern.”

Under the legislation, social media platforms would be required to “do whatever is reasonable and within their power” to monitor categories of harmful content on their services, and make the content inaccessible in Canada within 24 hours of being flagged. Failure to do so could result in a $10 million fine, or 3 per cent of a platform’s gross global revenue, whichever is higher.

A new Digital Safety Commissioner of Canada, along with the Digital Recourse Council of Canada, and an Advisory Board, would have the power to refer offences to prosecutors for further penalties. Fines for non-compliance could be as much as $25 million, or 5 per cent of an entity’s gross global revenue, whichever is higher.

In the case of Facebook, that penalty could be as much as $5.4 billion, based on its total revenues last year.

A mechanism would also be in place which could see platforms blocked within Canada for flagrant violators.

The legislation would not cover private communications such asemail and text messages, nor telecommunications service providers like Bell and Rogers.

The government says it plans to hold roundtable discussions with stakeholders and receive input from Canadians on the proposed framework. Comments will be accepted up until September 25.