Canada Plans Fines for Tech Companies That Spread Disinformation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the planned "digital charter" to tackle online extremism, disinformation, and transparency, on Thursday.

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May 16 2019, 3:54pm

Justin Trudeau speaking to media in Paris. Photo via Sebadelha Julie/ABACA

Canada is introducing a digital charter that will impose "meaningful financial consequences" on tech companies if they don't reign in misinformation on their platforms, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

Trudeau made the announcement during a speech in Paris at the Viva Technology conference. He said that social media companies have “failed their users” and announced the Canada will establish a new digital charter aimed at universal access, countering online extremism and misinformation, and transparency.

Trudeau didn't address specific details of the charter, such as the size of the fines or how they will be handed out.

“Canada is stepping up,” Trudeau said in his speech. “We will be launching a brand new digital charter. This charter will outline what Canadians can expect from both the government and the private sector as it relates to the digital landscape."

In the 15-minute speech, Trudeau spoke at length about the Christchurch, New Zealand shooting in which the killing of 51 Muslim worshipers was live streamed on Facebook, and says he’s ready “to work with the private sector to eradicate terrorist and violent extremist content online once and for all.”

“The platforms are failing their users and they’re failing our citizens, they have to step up in a major way to counter disinformation,” he said. “If they don’t we will hold them to account and there will be meaningful financial consequences.”

The digital charter is expected to be released at the end of May by Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains. More details are expected to be released this month.

Earlier in the week, Trudeau met with 16 other world leaders to discuss online extremism. During this summit, which was chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the world leaders signed onto the “Christchurch Call for Action”, a non-binding agreement that loops in both governments and private companies to address online extremism through regulations and self-policing.

Notably, the United States didn’t sign onto the agreement. On Wednesday, the White House launched a portal for people to submit testimony about being "silenced" or "censored" online.

Facebook along with Microsoft, Twitter, Google and Amazon also signed on to the Christchurch Call for Action.

On Monday, Trudeau spoke with Microsoft president Brad Smith. According to a government statement, the two “discussed ways that governments could work closely with industry, especially social media platforms, to stop the internet being used as a tool to organize and promote terrorism and violent extremism.”

Trudeau also spoke with Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Monday about “how governments and digital platforms can take action to stop the internet being used as a tool to organize and promote terrorism and violent extremism.”

Fake news, online extremism, and the general toxicity of the online world has been a big topic of discussion in Canada leading into this year's election. Earlier this month a survey by the Canadian Journalism Foundation found that almost 40 percent of Canadians have difficulty distinguishing a fake news story from a fact-based one.

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This article originally appeared on VICE CA.

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