Draft Canada law would force social media companies to quickly remove harmful content

February 27, 2024 - 2:18 PM
Arif Virani
Canada's Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Arif Virani speaks about the Online Harms Act during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada February 26, 2024. (Reuters/Blair Gable)

OTTAWA — Canada on Monday unveiled draft legislation to combat online hate that would force major companies to quickly remove harmful content and boost the penalty for inciting genocide to life in prison.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced the bill with the stated aim of protecting children from online predators.

The bill says major social media companies must quickly remove content that sexually victimizes a child as well as intimate content communicated without consent. In both cases, the content would have to be removed within 24 hours, subject to an oversight and review process.

A company found guilty of contravening the law could be fined a maximum of 6% of its gross global revenues, government officials said during a technical briefing.

“There must be consequences for those who violate the rules online… bad actors target our most vulnerable — our children. They spread vile hate and encourage impressionable people to commit violence,” Justice Minister Arif Virani told reporters.

Content providers would have to introduce special protections for children, including parental controls, safe search settings and content warning labels.

The bill covers social media, user-uploaded adult content and live-streaming services but not private and encrypted messaging services.

The bill would also sharply raise the penalties for those found guilty of advocating or promoting genocide. The proposed maximum sentence would be life in prison, up from the five years at present.

Whether all the provisions make it through to the final version is unclear. The bill must be studied by a parliamentary committee and then the upper Senate chamber, both of which can demand changes.

Other nations are moving to shield children from danger on the internet. Last October, Britain’s new Online Safety Law set tougher standards for social media platforms.

Canadian government ties with major internet companies are strained over Ottawa’s demand that they pay Canadian news publishers for their content.

Alphabet’s Google agreed last November to pay C$100 million ($74.05 million) annually to publishers while Meta decided to block news on Facebook and Instagram in Canada.

A Meta spokesperson said the company looks forward to collaborating with lawmakers and industry peers “on our long-standing priority to keep Canadians safe.”

A spokeswoman for Google said the company was unlikely to respond on Monday.

($1 = 1.3505 Canadian dollars)

— Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Andrea Ricci, Sandra Maler and Richard Chang