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Facebook sets higher standards in guidelines than laws: Chan

Briefs | 05/10/2019 6:09 pm EDT

OTTAWA — Facebook Inc.’s head of public policy in Canada said Friday the platform’s community guidelines, “in many respects,” go above what is currently prescribed in Canadian law, as the company works on making those guidelines more transparent.

“We need to respect the laws of the country, but then beyond that, we have our community standards, which actually have a higher standard,” Kevin Chan said at a communications law conference hosted by the Forum for Research and Policy in Communications.

Chan said Facebook doesn’t want and bans hate speech, terrorism, and pornography from its platform, which he said in many, but not in all, cases goes “over and above the law.” He used the example of the criminalization of hate speech, saying Facebook doesn’t just have zero tolerance for that, but for “hateful” speech as well.

Last month, the company banned Canadian white nationalist and separatist groups and far-right figure Faith Goldy from its platforms. It followed that up by banning other global figures this month. It has a track record of banning pages and accounts in the billions that break its community guidelines.

The panel was discussing methods to strengthen democracy in Canada “by ensuring the production and distribution of local, national and international news.” It was part of a two-day conference about the rights and responsibilities in Canada’s digital communications law, which is currently being reviewed by a government-appointed panel that is slated to release an interim report at the end of June.

The comments come as Facebook’s top executives are being asked to testify in front of an international committee on disinformation and fake news later this month in Ottawa.

The call follows a report by the privacy commissioner which found the company violated Canadian law when it allowed personal information to be scraped off its platform without consent. Wrapping up a year-long investigation following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the privacy commissioner also said this week his office will file a lawsuit against the company before the October election for failing to comply with consent and transparency recommendations it made during the investigation.

The government has also criticized Facebook for not giving it the “assurances” that it will step up to curb foreign influence, including removing bad content. Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said last month that she expects social media platforms to be more transparent on those actions, not just share information when they decide to.

Chan — who said the company “needs to be more transparent” with how it comes to decisions on its community standards — said Facebook is making strides there in the form of an “oversight board,” which will determine how content is governed and enforced on its platform by allowing people to appeal those decisions to an independent body.

He also said it is “perfectly appropriate and normal for governments to decide” what should and shouldn’t be allowed with regard to speech on the internet, because “you do want basic standards…on every platform.” The oversight board will “hold us to account and be transparent.

“That’s how we think about speech and how to govern speech online,” he added.

Earlier this year, Chan said Facebook will comply with a requirement under the new elections law that stipulates the platform must create, maintain and make public an ad registry for political advertisements. CBC/Radio-Canada reported that most of Canada’s top website won’t have a registry set-up, which means they won’t have election ads on their platforms. That includes Alphabet Inc., which was grilled this week on its decision not to have one.  

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