Canada needs an independent agency to regulate social media with the power to order offending material to be taken down, says Beverly McLachlin, former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The legal tools we have at the moment don’t seem to be coping with the fast spread of misinformation,” McLachlin told the latest episode of the World Press Freedom Canada podcast, Big Digital Lies.
Canada, she said, needs an independent social media regulator operating at arm’s length from government, and that watchdog should have the authority to order hate speech, disinformation and other harmful communication to be removed from social media sites. “We need to have a takedown mechanism,” McLachlin said.
The former chief justice was a member of the Canadian Commission on Democratic Expression, established last year by the Public Policy Forum. That commission recommended in January that the government should pass legislation requiring social media platforms to “act responsibly” and establish an independent agency to enforce that duty.
Interviewed by Ottawa journalist Sarah Turnbull, McLachin said takedown powers should be used sparingly in cases of hate speech or harmful misinformation in order to avoid interference with freedom of speech.
While the Constitution sets out freedom of expression as a fundamental right, its Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows government to place limits on that right in so far as they can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Finding the proper balance between freedom and responsibility is fundamental to the government’s task in reining in the social media giants, McLachlin said.
The former chief justice also noted the social media platforms are doing more to police hate speech and disinformation but cannot be left to self regulate.
In previous episodes of Big Digital Lies, Turnbull spoke to Craig Silverman on the prevalence of misinformation and disinformation; Almira Elghawaby — also a member of the PPF’s Commission on Democratic Expression — on the harmful impacts of fake news, and Canadian Press reporter Mia Rabson on reporting on COVID through a haze of misinformation.
The entire Big Digital Lies series can be found here: https://worldpressfreedomcanada.ca/podcast-big-digital-lies/ You can also find Big Digital Lies on iPolitics.ca, Apple or wherever you get your podcasts.