Taylor Owen discusses Canada’s new Digital Charter

Taylor Owen is the Beaverbrook chair of
media ethics and communication in the max Bell School of Public Policy at
McGill University in Montreal he joins me now mr. Owen good to see it thanks
for being with us we don’t know much about the details of the digital charter
promised by the Prime Minister today but what’s your reaction to the the
direction the Prime Minister is taking on this yeah I mean I was I was I was
pleased by the direction to be honest I think the framing of the christchurch
call the day before which was focusing very narrowly on terrorism and violent
extremism and was really a voluntary measure that had almost no obligations
to the signatories was it was a real problem and the Prime Minister has gone
in a very different direction today by setting out when is that ultimately a
broad governance strategy for platforms which is I think the direction we need
to be going as I said you’re in Montreal you’re in Vancouver of course that the
Prime Minister talked about fines for social media companies that don’t do
more to control what’s on their platforms what do you think we we need
to to push the social media companies to take more action more responsibility for
what’s on their platforms yeah I mean I think we need a broad regulatory
framework for how to deal with these sets of problems and the challenge you
put your nail on the head there with the fines I mean the problem up until now is
we’ve had we’ve had no reasonable punitive capacity for even enforcing our
own existing laws in this space and this is something that every country that’s
moved towards taking this governance of this space seriously the one of the
first things they’ve done is put on significant penalty financial penalties
for breaches of new privacy law, or new content law, so GPR for example allows a
fine of 4% of global revenue. And that’s the kind of fine that I think start will
start to get the attention of these companies who have faced with just minor
financial penalty or almost the impossibility of of enforcing any
penalty at all aren’t going to sookie sookie me on canada’s kind of
leading the way on this and i’m curious to know what you think of it why there
seems to be such a reluctance for governments and the social media
companies to get more involved in in regulating content the u.s. the US
government is throwing up its hands and and talks a lot about protecting free
spree free speech how much of a threat to free speech is greater regulation
well yeah we have to we have to be clear on which notion of free speech and which
country’s notion of free speech many of these companies most of these companies
emerged in the united states obviously and are therefore applying an american
notion of free speech which is is quite absolute to the way they operate in the
rest of the world and we know that different countries have different laws
and different norms around speech than the united states does
so the question is i think for me is whether those national norms in other
democratic countries around speech are going to be enforced and applied on
these american platforms right so is the issue really controlling in and I guess
limiting I mean the free speech piece is one part of it but then there’s the
whole issue of trying to control and limit the applicable if ocation of hate
or extremism when we find it on those on those platform that’s the responsibility
of social media platforms or should it be it should I mean that and that’s to
me what a potential liability or accountability needs to set there’s a
big difference between anyone have a beat having a right to say something on
a platform that is to me where free speech is critical not limiting the
ability of individuals to say things that are legal in these platforms but
where we can hold them accountable I think is in how the platform’s amplify
that speech how they spread it to potentially millions of people and how
they then monetize and kamana ties that amplification and that’s the point I
think we can focus some of our regulatory measures so beyond the fines
what and as I say there’s not much in the way of detail on the digital charter
yet it’s to come in different announcements we’re told by the
government what what needs to be in it beyond the fines but there’s two three
broad categories of governance needs to happen here content policy so looking at
harmful in hate speech and how that we enforced
as you mentioned data policy so increased data rights for individuals to
protect our data and give us more to empower us to use our data in different
ways and competition policy which was also alluded to today that we need to be
looking at things like antitrust things like competition policy to make sure
that our markets are remaining open and that our the Canadian digital economy is
is able to compete in a in a legitimate way against these global companies let’s
finish on this at the end of the Christchurch call summit yesterday
Facebook Google Twitter and some of the other technology giants they pledged to
step up their efforts to prevent their platforms from being used to spread
spread hatred and help extremist groups organize and broadcast attacks and so on
can they be trusted to do enough on their own I’m not sure that’s the the
relevant framing for this I mean I think we’ve had 15 years of largely self
regulation in this space that’s led us to the set of problems we have now and
for my view if a government sees a social harm to its population then its
responsibility to step in and govern it because they are ultimately the bodies
in our society that have democratic accountability so yes I think platforms
and these tech companies are doing way more now than they were even just a year
ago but that is because of increased public pressure public awareness of
these problems and most importantly the the turning of attention from
governments to this set of problems without that they wouldn’t be doing this
all right Taylor oh and thank you for your perspectives and I’d go to talk to
you anytime

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