Liberal candidate, Richard Lee, suggested on Wednesday night that the United Nations should establish a worldwide internet regulator to stop the spread of misinformation.
Lee made the comment during the first candidates debate in Burnaby South, the British Columbia byelection race where NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is hoping to secure a seat in parliament.
“We are in the new era,” Lee said, speaking about how the internet has permeated people’s lives over the past four decades. When asked if Facebook should have journalistic standards to ensure content hosted on the site is credible and accurate, the former B.C. Liberal MLA said because the company operates worldwide, “I think United Nations should have a body to regulate those activities.”
The concept wasn’t a hit with everyone in the packed Burnaby, B.C., hotel conference room where the debate took place. In fact a lot of people started to boo.
Lee later defended his point further and explained the UN as the ideal organization for the task “because there are so many countries there.” People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson disagreed and claimed it’s the UN that needs regulation, not Facebook users.
Singh argued more checks and balances are needed for platforms such as Facebook.
“The majority of Canadians rely on some source of multinational web corporation for their news,” the NDP leader said. He acknowledged misinformation as an issue that’s “problematic.”
“The repercussions are pretty devastating,” he warned, and referenced the ongoing Special Counsel investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election as an example of when things go awry.
Conservative candidate Jay Shin said “any attempt to regulate free speech” comes with concerns about censorship.
“I’m not sure how you can regulate [the] internet at that level,” Shin said. “I think we have measures in Canada, with the parliamentarians trying to work together to make sure foreign influence can be limited.”
For now, we can only speculate what will occur in the upcoming election. Internet censorship tends to be a very touchy subject throughout the U.S. and Canada, as there is general consensus that freedom of speech is vital for the free transfer of ideas online.
Though there is fake news, there should be more measures in place to inform people how to spot fake news and how to verify news for themselves. A large governing body like the U.N. being allowed to decide what constitutes fake news is a scary idea, and would be a tough sell to Canadians.
Though it would indeed be hard to teach Canadians what fake news is with as little bias as possible, it is not an insurmountable task. Things like verifying sources, and even looking for skepticism in comment threads under popular articles are easy ways to find information that could help distinguish whether an article is fake or not.
There is general outcry, when media figures are banished from the web to censor speech. For example, controversial media punder Alex Jones trended worldwide when there was a sweeping ban to deplatform him, and to remove him from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and podcast hosting sites all at once.
Political pundits across the board, and especially on the right, agreed that this type of banishing and deplatforming is a slippery slope to go down, as it is often difficult to trust those with tremendous power to decide what is best for the consumer.
Changes are happening though, notably in the European Union last year, after the European parliament reformed the data protection law.
The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation took effect on May 25 and introduced fines for companies caught collecting or using a users’ personal data without their consent. This gave Facebook a financial impetus to be more transparent with its 380 million European users on how data collected from the platform is used.
Canada has not passed related legislation to introduce similar sanctions for social media platforms.