Against hate and hustle on the internet

Citizens' Assembly on Democratic Expression

In Canada, a citizens' assembly is calling on the government to take immediate action to combat the spread of disinformation on social media. On 4 February 2022, the randomly selected assembly had released its second report with a total of 27 recommendations.

The Citizens' Assembly on Democratic Expression recommended, among other things, information campaigns and a centre for education on the spread of misinformation. Digital media companies should be more transparent about the consequences of their algorithms and label information as true and verified.

"A pressing and serious problem"

All participants agreed that the spread of disinformation via social media is a pressing and serious issue, says Stephanie Tucker. The Newfoundlander was one of the 42 participants drawn for the Citizens' Assembly.

The problem of disinformation takes many forms, she said. It includes targeted campaigns against political parties, platforms or politicians, or against religious or racial groups. This increases polarisation, divides society and increases the perception of threat. "It’s not telling the truth", Tucker said.

On behalf of the government

The Citizens' Assembly had been mandated by the Department of Canadian Heritage to look at how Canada ought to regulate digital platforms. Participants spent four days in Ottawa in November and another three Saturdays online to learn the ways in which social media platforms work, and the degree to which they need to be held responsible for online harm, specifically the spread of disinformation. The 42 participants came from all provinces and territories of the country.

In the course of more than 40 hours, the assembly members

  • learned about the principles of democratic expression and the social impact of digital technologies;
  • examined existing institutions and regulations that safeguard both democratic speech and the public interest;
  • considered the effectiveness of existing Canadian laws;
  • explored how other countries are responding to this challenge;
  • issued a series of consensus recommendations concerning the measures the federal government and industry should take.

Presentations by experts

The discussions were based on presentations by numerous experts who explained, among other things, how criminal law could be used to provide consequences for disseminating disinformation online. Another topic were the challenges the law has in navigating the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Constitution. The assembly members also explored legal methods for regulation and were briefed on past and current laws in this space.

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