AP Photo from the 2015 Paris Massacre
February 25, 2023
All eyes were on the US Supreme Court last week as judges heard legal arguments against Google from the bereaved parents of Nohemi Gonzalez. An American student, Gonzalez was gunned down in the 2015 Paris massacre by ISIS terrorists who may have been recruited over YouTube.
It’s all about how broadly the courts should apply the liability exemption for platforming dangerous content granted by section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act.
The urban legend about that exemption is that it created today’s Internet. There’s no matching exemption in Canada, but YouTube wants one in the Online Safety Bill that Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez has promised.
The judgment of the US court won’t be delivered for several months. The constitutional weight of First Amendment free speech rights will certainly affect the outcome.
If you would like to take the temperature on the sub-49th climate on social media and free speech, read the report on the lower court injunction ruling rendered by an Obama-appointed judge on a New York state law that required Rumble to adopt an anti-hate code of conduct.
Speaking of our friends at Google, the web giant cast a shadow over our Heritage Minister’s famously sunny disposition by launching a five-week test of deleting (or down-ranking?) search results for “varying degrees of Canadian or international news.”
“We’re briefly testing potential product responses to Bill C-18 that impact a very small percentage of Canadian users,” wrote a Google spokesperson. “We run thousands of tests each year to assess any potential changes to Search.”
The Google test affects one in twenty-five Canadian users, so even though it wasn’t formally announced as part of Google’s campaign against the Online News Act Bill C-18 it was meant to be noticed.
Google’s actions provoked the expected responses from those supporting and opposing C-18. Liberal and NDP members of the Commons Heritage Committee raised the possibility of summoning Google representatives for a grilling by MPs.
It’s not clear what Google’s end-game is.
The Bill will become law with support from the Bloc and the NDP. The most achievable amendment that Google desired —narrowing the ‘undue preference’ regulation of the news search algorithm— was passed by the House. The unachievable amendment that Google desires —-scrapping the Bill in favour of a Google donation to a journalism fund—- will not be passed.
Once the Bill is enacted, such algorithm-tampering designed to penalize Canadian news businesses will be contrary to sections 51 and 52 and will be subject to a fine of up to $10 million for the first offence.
All Google is doing is convincing supporters of C-18 and regulation of Big Tech in general that they were right in the first place. The Toronto Star’s Navneet Alang wrote about that, here.
The Senate gets to work on C-18 next month in Committee. MediaPolicy.ca reported on the warm-up debate in Second reading in the upper chamber, here.
There was an odd twist (is there any other kind?) in the Parliamentary saga of Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act.
After the Bill passed both the House and the Senate, the Legault government in Québec made public demands for new amendments as part of the final reconciliation of House and Senate versions of the Bill.
At the top of the Premier’s list, he wants Ottawa to embed in C-11 a special consultation with Québec on the draft Policy Directive that Heritage Minister Rodriguez is expected to release as broad guidance to the CRTC on implementing a long list of regulatory requirements for online undertakings.
In ordinary circumstances, Legault’s belated intervention would be summarily dismissed as posturing.
Whatever the outcome, Len St. Aubin wrote an excellent analysis of the Parliament Hill politics and competition for nationalist votes in Québec.
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