And Now The Prime Minister Of Canada Is Threatening To Fine Social Media Companies Over 'Fake News'

Oh good. Now Canada wants in on the “fake news” action.

Canada is introducing a digital charter that will impose “meaningful financial consequences” on tech companies if they don’t reign in misinformation on their platforms, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

Trudeau made the announcement during a speech in Paris at the Viva Technology conference. He said that social media companies have “failed their users” and announced the Canada will establish a new digital charter aimed at universal access, countering online extremism and misinformation, and transparency.

Not included in this announcement:

What “misinformation” means in this context How fines will be handed out What collateral damage this will cause to free expression Why any of this is necessary
Apparently, this all flows from the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand. On top of “eradicating terrorist and violent content… once and for all,” the Canadian government will apparently be punishing tech companies for failing to eradicate anything the Canadian government believes isn’t real. The phrase “meaningful financial consequences” was used.

Perhaps the biggest misconception government officials hold about social media platforms is that moderation is easy. They find a few examples of stuff they think should be banned and they assume anyone can do the same thing, even when dealing with millions of uploads a minute. They also believe moderators should instinctively recognize this content immediately, no matter the context, and act to remove it before it’s seen by others.

Something as nebulous as “fake news” is going to be a lot harder to moderate than “terrorist and violent content.” Even the latter has its own issues, as much of what’s considered “terrorist and violent” can also be newsworthy or crucial to law enforcement investigations.

“Fake news” tends to be whatever top government officials declare it is. If that’s all it takes, tech companies will be fined as often as grandstanders open their mouths. As we’ve seen here in the US, President Trump can’t go more than a day without calling someone or something “fake news.” If that same hostility towards the press is shown in Canada — and it’s not inconceivable someone like Trump could become Prime Minister — tech companies will have two choices: pay fines constantly or subject their users to a ton of moderation collateral damage.

This won’t make things better for Canadians. And it won’t do them any favors when it comes to them expressing themselves online. Demanding more moderation using meaningless buzzwords is a great way to open up a portal to moderation hell. If the Canadian government can find a better approach to tackling “fake news” than perpetually fining social media companies, it probably should excuse itself from the discussion.
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