A law to regulate Musk and Twitter as soon as possible

PHOTO JOE SKIPPER, REUTERS ARCHIVES

Elon Musk, the world’s richest man, said he secured US$46.5 billion to buy Twitter.

Philip Mercury

Philip Mercury
The Press

It is unclear what exactly Elon Musk wants to do with Twitter. However, we know one thing: since his spectacular acquisition, the richest man in the world has talked a lot about freedom… and very little responsibility.

Posted yesterday at 5:00 a.m.

This is a reminder of the urgency of regulating social networks. Here, the Trudeau government did not wait for this megatransaction to reflect on hate and misinformation on the internet. It is to be welcomed. But here is a case where things will have to be done quickly and well.

Elon Musk said he wanted to make Twitter the digital equivalent of city squares (digital town square).

The analogy is interesting. Because contrary to what Mr. Musk suggests, public squares are not a lawless Wild West. Freedom of expression reigns there. But like everywhere else, it is not absolute.

Anyone who makes threats in Place d’Youville or Square Phillips will be quickly arrested. Same thing if he tries to foment an ethnic cleansing or if he incites his fellow citizens to arm themselves to storm the parliament.

It’s the state that dictates the rules in public places and that’s good. It must be the same on the digital squares.

Of course, we learned the hard way that our virtual agoras have a reach that church steps don’t. This is why, in addition to enforcing existing laws, special laws are also needed to regulate them.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed how malicious individuals can take advantage of the personal data of Internet users to influence their voting intentions and corrupt democratic processes.

The pandemic has shown how algorithms whose workings are hidden from the public can create echo chambers fostering misinformation and hatred – with sometimes tragic consequences in the real world.

And we know that in parallel with the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is waging another war on social networks. This one takes place through accounts hacked or created by artificial intelligence, and grouped into coordinated networks to disseminate misinformation.

The consequences of such attacks must be taken very seriously.

The Trudeau government has understood the importance of taking action. Unfortunately, his first swing at bat missed the ball. Introduced just before the election, Bill C-36 died on the order paper. Either way, it had major flaws.

The government has just resumed the exercise from the beginning. A committee of 12 experts has been formed to reflect on the management of hate and misinformation on social networks.

Here, Canada is fortunate to have a cleared path ahead of it. It would be crazy not to follow him. Europe has just come up with a tough proposal to curb hate and misinformation on the internet: the Digital Services Act.

The regulations are essentially aimed at forcing social networks to assess the risks associated with their activities and to react to them, under penalty of heavy fines.

The co-chair of the committee of experts mandated by the federal government, Professor Pierre Trudel, admits to being inspired by it.

“The more the model is used around the world, the more likely it is to be effective. Clinging to the European model gives more guarantees,” he told us.

The expert committee’s report should be submitted in the summer. The deadline is fast and that’s good. Then, it is the politician who will have to take the torch. He too will have to show speed, but also pedagogy.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives risk turning this fundamental issue into an ideological war and brandishing scarecrows. We will cry out for censorship. Except that it is perfectly possible to regulate hatred without lapsing into censorship.

Elon Musk has just bought himself a 44 billion US toy. Good for him. But it’s up to us to set the rules of the game.

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A law to regulate Musk and Twitter as soon as possible


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