Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after participating in an armchair discussion at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves after participating in an armchair discussion at the Open Government Partnership Global Summit in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Trudeau warns internet regulation could be used to repress citizens, free speech

He argued that he’s found the tech sector to be receptive to self-regulation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says governments need to be wary of taking steps to regulate social media platforms that could be used by authoritarian regimes to further oppress citizens and stifle free speech.

As momentum builds around the globe for regulating tech titans like Facebook and Google, Trudeau made it clear Wednesday that he sees government intervention as a last resort.

He made his case at the kick-off of the Open Government Partnership Summit, a gathering of civil society and government representatives from some 100 countries aimed at promoting more open and transparent governments around the globe.

Among other things, the three-day summit, being hosted by the Canadian government, is to consider ways to combat bad actors who use the internet to spread hatred and extremism, exacerbate societal divisions, sow distrust in democratic institutions and manipulate election outcomes.

Trudeau argued that government regulation is not the solution. Rather, he said the solution lies in governments working with tech giants and citizens to rein in the worst aspects of social media.

“Fundamentally, we can’t look at platforms as automatic antagonists. We recognize the solution doesn’t lie in government’s heavy hand over our internet, over our public spaces,” he said during a conversation with Liz Plank, a journalist with online media outlet Vox.

“What tools a reasonable, democratic, open government like Canada or others might find extremely useful and good to have on protecting citizens and encouraging competition and assuring that platforms take their responsibility seriously, in a different country might be a tool for oppression of citizens or control or really attacking free speech.”

Trudeau added that freedom of speech “is so fundamental to our democracies … there are some really tricky decisions we have to have and we have to have them in conversation.”

A few hours earlier, politicians from Canada and about a dozen other countries wrapped up a three-day gathering in Ottawa aimed entirely at coming to grips with the potential harms social media causes to democracies. The consensus of those who took part — including representatives from Canada’s three main federal parties — was that the tech giants can’t be trusted to regulate themselves and it’s time for government’s to compel them to clean up their act.

Among other things, members of the grand committee on big data, privacy and democracy issued a summons to Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, who did not accept an invitation to appear as witnesses.

But Trudeau didn’t join the pile-on. Instead, he argued that he’s found the tech sector to be receptive to self-regulation, recognizing that users will eventually delete their accounts if platforms become “pools of toxicity.”

“When you see a toxicity beginning to spread on platforms, a lot of good people step away from those platforms and you end up with just pools of toxicity that people will find other ways of having these conversations. So it’s very much in the tech sector and platforms’ interest to try and make sure that they’re creating spaces that are valuable to citizens and community.”

Trudeau said he’s prepared to impose regulations if the tech titans don’t take it upon themselves to resolve the problems.

“I’d much rather do it in partnership with platforms but, if it comes down to it, we will take measures that we will regret having to take because our imperative is to keep citizens safe.”

READ MORE: Social media giants in hot seat as politicians consider regulations in Ottawa

READ MORE: Mozilla exec tells Ottawa big data committee he was ‘shocked’ by what Alexa recorded

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Randy Brown, owner of Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue, has five trailers and a motorhome at the back of his property that he is renting to people who had been previously homeless. He wants to put 15 trailers on his property, hooked up to city sewer and water and BC Hydro. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Another Port Alberni property slapped with remediation order

The Wintergreen Apartments are on Fourth Avenue, across from the bottle depot

Volunteers gather at Third Avenue and Mar Street on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020 to walk the streets of Uptown Port Alberni searching for people sleeping in alleys to hand out food and Naloxone kits. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Port Alberni tent city evicted again

Campers took over gazebo at Roger Creek Park

Richard Hawksworth, 88, has been living in the Alberni Valley since 1946. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
VALLEY SENIORS: Port Alberni senior raises funds for the less fortunate

Richard Hawksworth contributes to the well-being of others

The Eta Chi Sorority chapter in Port Alberni recently donated $1,840 in funds to Ty Watson House, the Salvation Army and Bread of Life, Alberni Community and Women’s Services Society and the SPCA. Lynne Galesloot, left, gives a cheque to Chris Mellin, House Manager of Ty Watson House. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Alberni sorority raises funds for community organizations

Eta Chi chapter applauded for donations

When Peter Mieras isn’t taking scuba divers out on excursions in Alberni Inlet with his Rendezvous Dive Adventures, he often finds himself in the water anyway—filming with his other enterprise, Subvision Productions. Mieras captured salmon on their final journey back to their river of origin during a calm moment at the end of October. (PHOTO COURTESY PETER MIERAS/ SUBVISION PRODUCTIONS)
Vancouver Island film maker has a sockeye’s view of salmon spawning ground

Peter Mieras gets up close and personal with iconic west coast fish

People wearing face masks to help curb the spread of COVID-19 cross a street in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. reports 17 COVID deaths, 1,933 new cases as hospitalizations surge over the weekend

There are 277 people in hospital, of whom 59 are in ICU or critical care

An aerial shot of Cedar Valley Lodge this past August, LNG Canada’s newest accommodation for workers at the project site in Kitimat. This is where several employees are isolating after a COVID-19 outbreak was declared last Thursday (Nov. 19). (Photo courtesy of LNG Canada)
Forty-one positive COVID-19 cases associated with the LNG Canada site outbreak in Kitimat

Thirty-four of the 41 cases remain active, according to Northern Health

Firefighters try to put out a structure fire on the Island Highway in Nanoose Bay early Saturday morning. (Nanoose Bay Volunteer Fire Department photo)
Horses in nearby stable saved as building burns down in Nanoose Bay

Firefighters called out in the early-morning hours Saturday

Brenda Schroeder thought she was reading it wrong when she won $100,000 from a Season’s Greetings Scratch & Win. (Courtesy BCLC)
New home on the agenda after scratch ticket win in Saanich

Victoria woman set to share her $100,000 Season’s Greetings lottery win

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

7-year-old Mackenzie Hodge from Penticton sent a hand-written letter to premiere John Horgan asking if she’d be able to see her elf, Ralph under the new coronavirus restrictions. (John Horgan / Twitter)
Elf on the shelf an acceptable house guest, B.C. premier tells Penticton girl

A 7-year-old from Penticton penned a letter asking if she’d be allowed to see her elf this year

Workers arrive at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors home, in North Vancouver, B.C., on Saturday, March 14, 2020. It was the site of Canada’s first COVID-19 outbreak in a long-term care facility. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Rapid tests ‘not a panacea’ for care homes, Dr. Bonnie Henry says

B.C. lacks capacity for daily tests of thousands of workers

(Delta Police Department photo)
Cannabis edibles found in Halloween bag lead B.C. police to illegal lab

Delta police arrested a man and a woman while executing a warrant at a residential property Nov. 20

Most Read