Google Translate by Jon Russell CC BY 2.0

Google Translate by Jon Russell CC BY 2.0


Canada Plans to Regulate Search and Social Media Use of Artificial Intelligence for Content Moderation and Discoverability

The Canadian government plans to regulate the use of artificial intelligence in search results and when used to prioritize the display of content on search engines and social media services. AI is widely used by both search and social media for a range of purpose that do not involve ChatGPT-style generative AI. For example, Google has identified multiple ways that it uses AI to generate search results, provide translation, and other features, while TikTok uses AI to identify the interests of its users through recommendation engines. The regulation plans are revealed in a letter from ISED Minister François-Philippe Champagne to the Industry committee studying Bill C-27, the privacy reform and AI regulation bill. The government is refusing to disclose the actual text of planned amendments to the bill.

The current approach in Bill C-27 leaves the question of which AI systems should be viewed as high impact to a future regulatory approach. The letter says the government now plans to identify the high impact systems within the bill and drop the future regulatory process. While many of the proposed high impact system are unsurprising and largely mirror similar rules in the European Union, the inclusion of search and social media is key exception. The government is targeting the following classes of AI systems:

1. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to determinations in respect of employment, including recruitment, referral, hiring, remuneration, promotion, training, apprenticeship, transfer or termination. 

2. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to (a) the determination of whether to provide services to an individual; (b) the determination of the type or cost of services to be provided to an individual; or (c) the prioritization of the services to be provided to individuals. 

3. The use of an artificial intelligence system to process biometric information in matters relating to (a) the identification of an individual, other than if the biometric information is processed with the individual’s consent to authenticate their identity; or (b) an individual’s behaviour or state of mind. 

4. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to (a) the moderation of content that is found on an online communications platform, including a search engine and a social media service; or (b) the prioritization of the presentation of such content. 

5. The use of an artificial intelligence system in matters relating to health care or to emergency services, excluding a use referred to in any of paragraphs (a) to (e) of the definition of “device” in section 2 of the Food and Drugs Act that is in relation to humans. 

6. The use of an artificial intelligence system by a court or administrative body in making a determination in respect of an individual who is a party to proceedings before the court or administrative body. 

7. The use of an artificial intelligence system to assist a peace officer, as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code, in the exercise and performance of their law enforcement powers, duties and functions. 

The identification of AI use for hiring, biometric information, heath care, administrative decisions, and law enforcement are similar to some of the “high risk” systems in the EU, which has tended to focus on sectors such as education and law enforcement. However, the inclusion of a category for content moderation or the prioritization of the presentation of content is not found in the EU. More comparative study is needed, but it does appear China’s extensive AI regulations cover search and social media. Further, the issue of regulating algorithms and discoverability was a major issue during the Bill C-11 debate, with the government insisting it would not do so. This approach would involve far more extensive regulation.

By including search and social media results as “high impact” systems, Bill C-27 establishes a range of regulations and new powers, including risk mitigation, record keeping, and public disclosures. The Minister can order disclosure of records, require an audit, and order virtually any measures arising out of the audit. Failure to abide by the regulations can result in penalties as high as 3% of gross global revenues. Moreover, the government plans to more closely align the regulatory powers to those found in the EU, which could establish a host of additional regulatory requirements. Given that the government is not releasing the actual text of the amendments, the specific obligations remains somewhat uncertain.

Many Canadians have been calling for rules to prevent bias and other harms that may arise from AI. However, the inclusion of content moderation and discoverability/prioritization comes as a surprise as does equating AI search and discoverability with issues such as bias in hiring or uses by law enforcement. While the government says it is more closely aligning its rules to the EU, it appears Canada would be an outlier when compared to the both the EU and the U.S. on the issue. 


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  6. Read the seminal work in the field of communication called The Bias of Communication by Harold Adams-Innis (1953). Bias is a tough read; but please give Harold Innis a break. He was dying of cancer when he penned his final academic effort to order to warn mankind about the inherent dangers whenever a new communication technology is developed by mankind.

    As William Leiss (1990) illustrates in Under Technology’s Thumb, is once a technology is birthed, the genie is out of the bottle. It is at that time it must be regulated with all risks ascertained and accounted for. If not, chaos will reign. Leiss’s work built on the Bhopal disaster and forms the basis of risk management and risk and crisis communication. Leiss’s work is not seminal, but very important and adds Canadian context to these very Canadian scholars cited here (i.e., Innis, McLuhan).

    Marshall McLuhan’s academic output built up on Innis’ work. McLuhan’s communication theories have proven as accurate as Einstein’s. It is suggested that you digest these two seminal scholars’ theories, while applying the basics of the Sapir Worph hypothesis – i.e., reification wherein language frames and drives perception – the basis of how human’s think about their world.

    After you do that, please ask yourself: What if hostile foreigners have hijacked social media? For what purpose? What if hostile domestics have also hijacked social media? And for what purpose? Is it a coincidence that Cambridge Analytica (now rebranded Emerdata) is owned by the people who own Breitbart? And who own a private hedge fund with an ROI of 36% and heavily invested in destabilized economies? These are the same people who financially back a far-right radical arm of the Republican Party that has the American Bar Association raising alarm?

    The rule of law – due process or even your opinion or ideas as a legal scholar – will mean nothing if McLuhan’s and Innis’ theories prove correct … again… as they have repeatedly, just like Einstein’s theories related to another, arguably more “explosive” theory that has been applied in real life. Innis and McLuhan’s theories show that history repeats. Sadly, academics tend to get executed in the periods of “arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations” to quote McLuhan. This is not a threat. It is simply what Hitler did when he mastered the radio. He didn’t need academics warning the masses. Ditto for Stalin. Lucky for you and me and all Canadians in general, Churchill and Roosevelt used radio to rally – not persecute. Lucky for you and me and Canadians in general (but not the Japanese), Einstein fled religious persecution in Bergen Belsen or some such place of horror. Oddly, we now see modern politicians using podcasts and radio driven by social media and the dark web to rally a base that persecutes minorities.

    In short, please do not discard seminal political-economic (Innis) communication (McLuhan) / linguistic (Sapir Whorf) theories that show how we humans form our social structures – i.e., who gets to be our next dictator… to how that dictator thrown out in a bloody revolution or “arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations” (bigger, deadlier) human-driven events like WWII. Please remove your narrow legal lens opinions to include larger socio-political issues that have been reified (by whom?) to destabilize Canadian society. And for what purpose? 40 million Germans back Hitler. Why would they do something so destructive?

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  18. Gonna make sure we stick with that good, old fashioned health care. Might as well restrict anything to do with gene therapy while they’re at it and reinstate the use of leeches.

    • What do you have against leeches? 😉 I’ve heard of a situation in modern medicine where leeches have been used. It had to do with dealing with blood leakage after reattaching a severed body part like a finger or toe.

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