According to the Expert Advisory Group on Online Safety, which Pablo Rodriguez, the Heritage Minister, appointed, says “misleading political communications,” should be subject to federal regulation. The group claims that unregulated political discussion and disinformation “erodes the foundations of democracy.”
Minister Rodriguez has previously claimed multiple times that Bill C-11 doesn’t scope user generated content in to the regulations. However his claims have been contradicted by the CRTC.
“We made it very clear in the Online Streaming Act that this does not apply to what individual Canadians and creators post online,” said Rodriguez. “No users, no online creators will be regulated. Only the companies themselves will have new responsibilities.”
“[Section] 4.2 allows the CRTC to prescribe by regulation user uploaded content subject to very explicit criteria. That is also in the Act,” CRTC chair Ian Scott told the heritage committee in June 2022.
Previously reported by BC Rise, in accordance with Section 4.2 of the bill, the CRTC may impose rules on social media businesses that limit the reach of content and favour some types of content over others.
The remarks were regularly made between April 9 and June 3 at several Expert Advisory Group on Online Safety meetings. The committee was established in March 2022 to propose how to control internet content that the advisory group deemed to be detrimental.
According to the group’s research, examples of damaging information include “propaganda, false advertising, and misleading political communications.”
A “Digital Safety Commissioner” would be appointed by the heritage department and would be given the authority to accept anonymous complaints about so-called dangerous information, hold private hearings, levy penalties, and order the blocking of specific websites.
According to group members, regulated content would include written Facebook posts, Twitter direct messaging, video games, Amazon product listings, and even Airbnb listings. “Many experts mentioned there is justification to look more widely at some interactive services like Airbnb and gaming platforms.”
“It was suggested that Canada’s definition of regulated entities should mirror that agreed to under the CUSMA trade agreement, whereby any service through which a user can post content, without editorial review, would be captured. It was said that this definition would include entities such as Airbnb, Facebook/Meta, messenger, the metaverse, and discord.” the report said
It also highlights the regulation of Content Delivery Networks (CDN) like Cloudflare. Cloudflare is a service for website security and one of the features is to absorb DDoS attacks to help keep websites online. Live verbal communications such as ClubHouse or gaming platforms will also be scoped into regulation.
“Many experts supported the notion that private communications should be included under the scope of the legislative framework,” wrote staff on the advisory panel. “Private messaging services should also be regulated.”
According to the expert advisory bodies, censorship must be used regardless of whether the content is legal. Since 1970, the Criminal Code has kept track of illegal content such as hate speech.
The advisory group wrote that grey zone content – speech that is legal but harmful – “poses unique challenges.” “The most harmful content online falls into this category,” he says, adding that “it is difficult to reconcile the issue of disinformation with the freedom of expression.”
The Online Streaming Act, Bill C-11, was introduced in early February 2022 and passed on June 21, 2022. The bill expands the CRTC’s authority to regulate internet content. The Senate is currently in second reading, with debate set to resume on September 20.