Canadians strongly assist extra enforcement of on-line hate speech on social media platforms, new ballot finds
OTTAWA – As Ottawa considers giving new powers to online hate speech and the social media platforms it is hosted on, new survey data suggests Canadians are finding widespread support for more enforcement.
However, the data suggests that Canadians are more in agreement about the impact increased online language surveillance will have on freedom of expression in the country.
Commissioned by the Canadian anti-hate network and shared exclusively with the star, the Ekos survey found that 73 percent of respondents consider online hate speech and racism to be a problem in Canada.
In addition, a large majority of respondents – between 70 and 79 percent – supported several options for the federal government to take stronger action in this area, including:
- Strengthening existing laws to hold people accountable for their online speech (79 percent support);
- Create an independent regulator to ensure social media companies comply with Canadian law (73 percent support); and,
- Require social platforms to remove users who repeatedly share racist or hateful content (72 percent).
While most support greater measures to combat hate speech online, respondents were more divided about the impact of enforcement on freedom of expression.
A slim majority, 51 percent of respondents, said that requiring social media platforms to remove racist or hateful content would protect freedom of expression in Canada, while 39 percent said it would violate freedom of expression.
“Even people who think (the action is) a limit to one type of speech – hate speech – recognize that it is reasonable because people have the right to be free from discrimination,” said Evan Balgord, a researcher at the Canadian anti-hate network.
“I think a lot of people understand that hate speech attacks their victims’ freedom of speech. And removing hate speech is a net positive for freedom of expression. ”
The federal liberals are expected to publish new rules on the distribution of illegal content, including hate speech and non-consensual distribution of intimate content, on internet platforms within a few weeks.
In January, the Minister for Cultural Heritage, Steven Guilbeault, informed the star that a regulator would be set up to oversee the new rules. These could include additional law enforcement powers, as well as the ability to “check” social media platforms’ algorithms – the invisible code that determines what you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter.
While major social platforms – with the exception of Australia – largely backed government regulation, a Facebook representative told the star in January that the company was concerned about some of the details that could be expected in Guilbeault’s bill.
These concerns are likely to be confirmed by civil rights groups who are reluctant to give law enforcement and government agencies a greater role in monitoring online language.
But Balgord said it should allay some of those concerns to put these decisions in the hands of an independent regulator – not the police, nor the intelligence community, nor a government department.
“Our Supreme Court has approved a definition of hate and a policy on hate propaganda. It’s limited, ”said Balgord.
“(This definition) and our human rights legislation protect certain groups. From today’s perspective, it is therefore not a realistic worry that it will later be misused for political purposes. “
The Ekos Research survey was conducted between March 1st and 5th and interviewed 1,230 voting age Canadians. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 out of 20.