Politics

Trudeau warns of 'meaningful financial consequences' for social media giants that don't combat hate speech

The federal government says it will launch a new digital charter that will dictate how the country will combat hate speech, misinformation and online electoral interference in Canada.

PM unveils plan for digital charter to tackle misinformation, violent extremism online

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech at the Viva Technology conference in Paris, Thursday May 16, 2019. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A new digital charter will dictate how the country will combat hate speech, misinformation and online electoral interference in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a technology conference in Paris on Thursday.

Trudeau made the announcement at the VivaTech conference, an international summit that brings together startups and technology leaders.

The announcement was short on details, which Trudeau says will be revealed in various announcements over the coming weeks. But he warned there will be hefty penalties for social media companies that don't clamp down.

"The platforms are failing their users and they're failing our citizens," he said. "They have to step up in a major way to counter disinformation and if they don't, we will hold them to account and there will be meaningful financial consequences."

Notably, Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains is expected to talk about the initiative at a summit on digital governance in Ottawa in late May.

The prime minister said he's confident the proposed framework will restore the faith of citizens while holding platforms accountable.

Social media and combating online extremism were at the top of the agenda as Trudeau winds down his two day trip to France.

In addition to a working lunch with French president Emmanuel Macron, Trudeau met with New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier Thursday in a bilateral meeting.

Condolences for Christchurch attacks

Ardern said it was one thing to offer condolences following the Christchurch mosque attacks that left 51 dead, but it was quite another to put those words into action as Canada has done in signing on to the "Christchurch Call" — a pledge involving several world leaders and internet giants to stop the spread of hate online.

Trudeau said the massacre must be a catalyst for change.

"When 51 people were gunned down at a mosque in New Zealand and the attacker streamed it live, it wasn't a wake-up call, it was the last straw for government leaders, companies ... and for citizens around the world."

At the end of the summit, Facebook, Google, Twitter and other technology giants pledged to step up their efforts to prevent their platforms from being used to spread hatred, help extremist groups organize and broadcast attacks.

Trudeau and Ardern discussed online violence and extremism in their respective countries, but also broached trade and security commitments around the world.

Following a bilateral meeting and working lunch, Trudeau and Macron spoke to reporters briefly outside the presidential Elysee Palace.

The two leaders discussed "ensuring that the web giants and tech companies take more responsibility for their social and community impacts, including against hatred and violence," Trudeau said.

He repeated that he was heartbroken during a visit to the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral, but was inspired by the work and courage of Paris firefighters who were able to salvage much of the building.

He repeated a pledge Wednesday to offer any support needed in the rebuilding of the landmark church — one day after he announced Canada's pledge to offer steel and softwood lumber.

The prime minister was to meet Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales later Thursday.

With files from CBC News

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