Social media responsibility and free speech: a new approach for dealing with ‘Internet harms'
With the emergence of the Internet, and social media in particular, has come previously unimaginable levels of free expression. At the same time, there are increasing concerns that largely unfettered freedom is creating harms for individuals and a society forced to contend with disinformation, unrestrained hate speech, and other challenges.
Is there a way to protect free expression online while confronting these harms? This paper proposes a first draft of legislation to accomplish this very goal.
From its inception, the Internet has had a profound and liberating impact on that dynamic by giving everyone connected to it via a computer or mobile device access to billions of other people. No longer was an expensive printing press or a government broadcasting licence required to 'publish' one’s message – a website could be built at very low cost. As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter evolved, they made access to massive audiences completely free and, if one wished, anonymous.
There are increasing demands from the public, media, and politicians for some imposition of order on the Internet, much of which focuses on the management of speech and its use on social media and other Internet platforms. Social media companies are themselves asking for regulation. Given that liberal democracies depend upon a constant balancing of liberty and order (whenever there is too much of one, the pendulum swings in the other direction), this is not surprising.
What this paper will do is outline some of the primary pressures Canadians are facing in terms of censorship, algorithms, data collection and transparency. It will then outline a legislative solution for policy-makers. In doing so, the authors put the interests of citizens – their safety and their freedom – at the top of the hierarchy of stakeholders involved.