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fedi-tiktok by David Lohner CC0 1.0 https://flic.kr/p/2pCxJA9

Better Laws, Not Bans: Why a TikTok Ban is a Bad Idea

New legislation making its way through the U.S. Congress has placed a TikTok ban back on the public agenda. The app is already prohibited on government devices in Canada, the government has quietly conducted a national security review, and there are new calls to ban it altogether from the Canadian market. While it might be tempting for some politicians to jump on the bandwagon, a ban would be a mistake. There are legitimate concerns with social media companies, but there simply hasn’t been convincing evidence that TikTok currently raises a national security threat nor that it poses a greater risk than any other social media service. The furor really seems to be a case of economic nationalism – a desire to deny a popular Chinese service access to the U.S. market – rather than a genuine case that TikTok poses a unique privacy and security threat. Taken at face value, however, the case against TikTok comes down to a simple concern: its owner, ByteDance, is a Chinese company that could theoretically be required to disclose user information to the Chinese government or compelled to act on its behalf. The proposed U.S. law therefore would require that TikTok be sold within six months or face a ban.

While the concerns associated with TikTok given its Chinese connection and popularity with younger demographics are well known, the privacy and security case against it is very weak.

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March 15, 2024 24 comments News
Arif Virani, MP for Parkdale-High Park by Nicole Contois https://flic.kr/p/ThAyBg CC0 1.0

Government Gaslighting Again?: Unpacking the Uncomfortable Reality of the Online Harms Act

The Online Harms Act was only introduced two weeks ago, but already it appears that the government is ready to run back the same playbook of gaslighting and denials that plagued Bills C-11 and C-18. Those bills, which addressed Internet streaming and news, faced widespread criticism over potential regulation of user content and the prospect of blocked news links on major Internet platforms. Rather than engage in a policy process that took the criticism seriously, the government ignored digital creators (including disrespecting indigenous creators) and dismissed the risks of Bill C-18 as a bluff. The results of that strategy are well-known: Bill C-11 required a policy direction fix and is mired in a years-long regulatory process at the CRTC and news links have been blocked for months on Meta as the list of Canadian media bankruptcies and closures mount.

Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, offered the chance for a fresh start given that the government seemed to accept the sharp criticism of its first proposal, engaging in a more open consultative process in response. As I noted when the bill was first tabled, the core of the legislation addressing the responsibility of Internet platforms was indeed much improved. Yet it was immediately obvious there were red flags, particularly with respect to the Digital Safety Commission charged with enforcing the law and with the inclusion of Criminal Code and Human Rights Act provisions with overbroad penalties and the potential to weaponize speech complaints. The hope – based on the more collaborative approach used to develop the law – was that there would be a “genuine welcoming of constructive criticism rather than the discouraging, hostile processes of recent years.” Two weeks in that hope is rapidly disappearing.

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March 13, 2024 29 comments News
Taking Action Against Antisemitic Hate: When Content Moderation, Self-Regulation, and Legislation Fail

Taking Action Against Antisemitic Hate: When Content Moderation, Self-Regulation, and Legislation Fail

The explosive growth of antisemitism in Canada since October 7th is well documented with shooting at schools, the need for a regular police presence at synagogues and community centres, arrests on terrorism offences, and protests targeting Jewish owned businesses and communities. So in that context, some antisemitic graffiti at a bus stop in Toronto over the weekend might have been just one more incident to add to the list that now runs into the hundreds. Yet I found the image of “No Service For Jew Bastards” particularly chilling, evoking memories of the holocaust and of similar hateful messages that have frequently targeted minority communities over the years. I proceeded to post a tweet and a LinkedIn post with the photo and a caption:

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March 5, 2024 11 comments News
Say No to Hate Crime! by Mike Gifford CC BY-NC 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/Nc2Xsb

Why the Criminal Code and Human Rights Act Provisions Should Be Removed from the Online Harms Act

Having a spent virtually the entire day yesterday talking with media and colleagues about Bill C-63, one thing has become increasingly clear: the Criminal Code and Human Rights Act provisions found in the Online Harms Act should be removed. In my initial post on the bill, I identified the provisions as one of three red flags, warning that they “feature penalties that go as high as life in prison and open the door to a tidal wave of hate speech related complaints.” There is no obvious need or rationale for penalties of life in prison for offences motivated by hatred, nor the need to weaponize human rights complaints by reviving Human Rights Act provisions on communication of hate speech. As more Canadians review the bill, there is a real risk that these provisions will overwhelm the Online Harms Act and become a primary area of focus despite not being central to the law’s core objective of mitigating harms on Internet platforms.

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February 28, 2024 23 comments News
Technologize Responsibly by Wesley Fryer CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/2qaY4b

My First Take on the Online Harms Act: Worst of 2021 Plan Now Gone But Digital Safety Commission Regulatory Power a Huge Concern

After years of delay, the government tabled Bill C-63, the Online Harms Act, earlier today. The bill is really three-in-one: the Online Harms Act that creates new duties for Internet companies and a sprawling new enforcement system, changes to the Criminal Code and Canada Human Rights Act that meet longstanding requests from groups to increase penalties and enforcement against hate but which will raise expression concerns and a flood of complaints, and expansion of mandatory reporting of child pornography to ensure that it includes social media companies. This post will seek to unpack some of the key provisions, but with a 100+ page bill, this will require multiple posts and analysis. My immediate response to the government materials was that the bill is significantly different from the 2021 consultation and that many of the worst fears – borne from years of poorly thought out digital policy – have not been realized. Once I worked through the bill itself, concerns about the enormous power vested in the new Digital Safety Commission, which has the feel of a new CRTC funded by the tech companies, began to grow.

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February 26, 2024 28 comments News