Trudeau to tech companies: Get tough on fake news or face fines

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Canadian service and content providers to get tougher on removing fake content online or risk getting hit with fines.

He made the statement Thursday morning in a speech at the Viva Technology conference in Paris, a day after signing with 16 other countries the Christchurch Call that promises more action by governments and industry that agree to improve fighting the spread of terrorist and extremist content online.

“The platforms are failing their users, and they’re failing our citizens. They have to step up in a major way to counter misinformation, and if they don’t we will hold them to account and there will be meaningful financial consequences,” Trudeau said this morning.”We’re willing to work with the private sector …to eradicate terrorist and violent extremist content once and for all.

“We will be launching a brand-new digital charter,” Trudeau said. “This charter will outline what Canadians can expect from both the government and the private sector as it relates to the digital landscape. It will touch on principles like universal access and transparency, and it will serve as our guide as we craft new digital policy.”

Last year the government started a national consultation on a digital and data transformation to better understand how Canada can drive innovation, prepare Canadians for the future of work, and ensure they have trust and confidence in how their data is used. That consultation closed in October.

“Hate and extremism are thriving online,” Trudeau said. “Platforms often facilitate and encourage this destructive behaviour, and as a result, these same platforms have become a breeding ground for extremists. With the power of the internet, and through lack of proper oversight, the hateful can champion their views, and incite violence from behind a computer screen and without consequence. And while these vile views live and fester online, they spill out into the real world with increasingly deadly consequences. It is our moral responsibility as leaders in government and in business, to denounce this hatred at every turn. We must stand united; we must fight back.”

“Hate speech isn’t the only issue permeating the tech world,” he added. “Disinformation is also eroding trust between people and platforms.”

He also hinted there will be proposed changes to federal privacy law, perhaps bringing it closer to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which includes the right of EU residents to take personal data from one company to another. “Right now, user data is overwhelmingly owned or controlled by a small number of platforms. Canadians, like others, are rightly concerned about the use of personal information by social media companies and they want clear rules to protect their personal information. Well, as the federal government, we believe that Canadians should have more control over their own data and that they should be able to move and take their data with them.”

The government may confront the tech industry on May 28 when the House of Commons’ information, privacy and ethics committee will hold a joint session with elected officials from eight other countries on disinformation. A number of tech leaders have been invited. It isn’t known yet how many will attend the session.  Those parliamentarians, from the U.K., Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, France, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore and Canada, have called themselves the International Grand Committee on Disinformation and Fake News.

Senior officials from Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Twitter have been invited. Facebook was quoted in today’s Globe and Mail as saying the company will be “appropriately represented.”

“You don’t have to put the blame on people like Mark Zuckerberg, or dismiss the benefits of social platforms to know that we can’t rely exclusively on companies to protect the public interest, Trudeau said in his speech. “We, of course, need innovators, small, medium, and large, to be developing new ideas, but we also need governments to ensure that the public interest is not at risk. Companies are built to attract investment and reward risktakers and investors. Government is there to promote innovation and risk-taking, while setting guardrails that protect us from the things that could go wrong. And so, we have to outline a path forward, even as we work to legislate and regulate in this ever-evolving tech space. It is essential that countries define how they will make those crucial decisions going forward.”

(This story has been updated from the original with more detailed quotes from Trudeau)

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Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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