OTTAWA — It’s no longer sustainable for social media companies to self-police content and time for governments to step in, the head of public policy for Facebook Canada said Friday.
That’s why the social media giant is welcoming ongoing work by the federal Liberal government to roll out a plan, Kevin Chan told the House of Commons heritage committee.
“Right now, it’s private companies like Facebook that are deciding what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook and we think that that doesn’t sit well with many people and they want public rules where there is legitimate public and democratic accountability,” he said.
“And so to the extent that lawmakers can agree on where that line should be drawn and then impose those lines on us, I think that would be certainly welcome.”
Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault told the committee work is underway as part of a three-pronged response to the challenges that social media platforms and other major internet-based content providers pose to the ways media in Canada has been regulated, financed and policed in the past.
One part of the response is a bill currently before the House of Commons to modernize the broadcasting regime, and a second is work to address how major internet companies are taxed, and in turn how traditional media companies are financially supported.
Then there is the issue of online hate, Guilbeault said, which has been brought to the fore during the pandemic as Canadians relied on digital communications to be connected and informed.
“Unfortunately, some internet users are also exploiting these platforms maliciously, to spread hate, racism and child pornography,” he said.
“There is currently illegal content being uploaded and shared online to the detriment of Canadians and our society. This is simply unacceptable.”
The coming bill will define a regulatory framework on hate speech, child pornography and content that incites people to violence, Guilbeault said.
A regulator will be established to implement the new rules and have the power to levy fines for infractions.
Both Guilbeault and Chan’s appearance at committee came amid intensifying debate over the tension between free speech on social media platforms and calls for government regulation of it, especially in light of deadly riots in the U.S. Capitol earlier this month that had been co-ordinated and facilitated by content posted on social media.
Many social media platforms, for example, disabled the accounts belonging to former U.S. president Donald Trump in the aftermath of the riots, leading to allegations they were acting out of censorship, not to protect public safety.
But the two men hadn’t been called before the committee to debate those points.
Rather, they were summoned by the opposition to discuss whether it was appropriate for Facebook to have asked officials in Guilbeault’s department if they knew of anyone suited for a job at the social media company.
The Opposition Conservatives and NDP alleged the incident raises concerns about whether Facebook is too close to the government at a time when rules are being considered.
Chan and Guilbeault rejected that allegation, arguing the posting had been widely available in public circles and nothing untoward had happened.
The minister chastised MPs for even raising the issue, suggesting they were trying to undermine trust in the public service in a manner that undermined democracy itself.
“Canada has a world renowned public service and it’s integral that we don’t attack them to try and score political points,” Guilbeault said.
“I mean, we saw on Jan. 6 where that can lead, just south of the border.”
Chan was asked whether the foreign political interference on social media that was part of recent U.S. elections was seeping into Canadian ones.
None was reported during the 2019 campaign, Chan said, but work is underway to be on guard for the next time Canada goes to the polls, though there is no reason to believe things will be different then.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021.
Facebook funds a fellowship that supports journalism positions at The Canadian Press.
The town of Rockwall, Texas, has a few claims to fame: Bonafide Betties Pie Company, where “thick pies save lives”; the mega-sized Lakepointe Church; and Lake Ray Hubbard, which is lovely until the wet, Texas heat makes a shoreline stroll feel like a plod through hot butter.
Now add to that list: Rockwall is home to the middle-school winners of NPR’s fourth-annual Student Podcast Challenge.
Their entry, The Worlds We Create, is a funny and sneakily thoughtful exploration of what it means that so many teens today are “talking digitally,” instead of face-to-face. It was one of two winning entries (the high school winner is here) chosen by our judges from among more than 2,000 student podcasts from around the country.
The team behind the pod
Rockwall hugs the eastern shore of the lake and got its name from a wall-like thread of sandstone that unspools beneath the town. “Every street name sounds the same: Lakeshore, Club Lake, Lakeview, Lakeside, and so on…” says the podcast’s narrator, 8th-grader Harrison McDonald. “If it sounds like our town is boring, that’s because it is. But let’s zoom into the center of one of those neighborhoods, on Williams Middle School.”
That’s where Harrison, fellow 8th-grader Blake Turley and 7th-graders Kit Atteberry and Wesley Helmer made the podcast, as part of librarian Misti Knight’s broadcasting class. Knight began teaching Harrison and Blake last year, when they would make videos for the school’s morning announcements. “But then I realized how good [the boys] were, and so I would say this year, I’m honestly more their manager,” she laughs.
Meaning, often Ms. Knight just gives the boys the roughest of ideas and encourages them to get creative. Which is why, when Harrison came to her with an idea for NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge, she said, “Why not?”
Harrison’s interest in the contest surprised no one. He wears chunky headphones around his neck every day, like a uniform, and says he was raised on public radio. “[My family] have a system. On long road trips, we listen to This American Life. On shorter road trips, we listen to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
Kit also brought a love of podcasting to the effort: “My dad got me into listening to podcasts, and we would just listen to them in the car and listen to them in the house. You know, he never really got into music. He was mostly into podcasts,” Kit says, especially The Moth.
For their entry, Harrison, Kit and the team wanted to explore how students at Williams Middle School, and likely every other middle and high school in the country, interact on social media. Specifically, when they go on a platform like TikTok or Instagram and create anonymous accounts to share things about school and their classmates.
“People feel anonymous, so they feel like they can do whatever they want”
For example: An account dedicated to pics of students considered “hot.”
“My friend was on there,” Blake says, “and I texted him, ‘Hey, do you know that you’re on this Instagram account?’ And he’s like, ‘What?!’ ”
Most of these accounts “aren’t even gossip,” Blake adds, “they’re just pictures of people sleeping, eating, acting surprised, acting sad.”
One account was dedicated entirely to pictures of students sleeping in class. On some accounts, students are in on the joke, but often they’re not, Harrison says.
“Through the internet … people feel anonymous, so they feel like they can do whatever they want — and get likes for it without any punishment.”
The boys found at least 81 of these accounts at Williams alone. Then they got a bold idea.
Fake it till you make it
“After seeing all of these social media pages, we decided it would be fun if we just made our own profile and posted fake gossip to see the impact it has and how it spreads through a middle school,” they explain in the podcast.
Fake gossip is putting it mildly.
“We knocked on our school police officer’s door and asked if he would pretend to arrest one of our A-V club members for the camera. Surprisingly, he actually agreed,” Harrison says.
It was the first video to go up on their new gossip account. “We didn’t think it would actually get anywhere, but less than 15 minutes later, we heard people starting to talk about it.”
Next up: The boys staged a fight in the band room, hoping a shaky camera and sound effects added in post-production would convince their classmates it was bigger and very real.
“Some of us would have kids walking up to us daily to tell us how we got absolutely destroyed in that fight or how they didn’t know we were in band. We were having fun with it now,” Harrison says in the podcast. “It didn’t take long for our fake account to start getting more followers than any other gossip account we could find.”
“Our generation prefers talking digitally”
As a social experiment, these four middle-schoolers went from quiet observers of social media to the school’s master muckrakers – even though everything they posted was utterly fake. In that way, the podcast works as a warning about the importance of media literacy — at a time when Americans half-a-century their senior are being suckered by social media every day.
But the podcast isn’t just a scold about fake news. It’s also about how, for kids their age, this is communication.
“We don’t pass notes, we send texts with our phones hidden under our desks,” Harrison says. “We don’t tell people about incidents that happened in class, we post it on TikTok. Our generation prefers talking digitally with each other from a distance, [rather] than communicating with each other in the real world.”
The boys named their podcast, The Worlds We Create.
Ms. Knight, a veteran teacher, says she’s seen these changes in students over the years.
“I just think there’s a lot less talking and a lot more, you know, swiping through their phone instead of saying, ‘Hey, guess what I saw today?’ ”
Knight has even seen it in her own family. “I would talk to my husband about, ‘Oh, did you see our eldest daughter?’ She lives in California. ‘She did this or whatever.’ And he would say, ‘How do you know this?’ ”
Her answer: “‘Because I’m following her social media and her friends’ social media.’ Because if you don’t do that, she’s probably not going to pick up the phone and call us and tell us.”
Is that inherently bad? Knight says, no, not necessarily. She does get to see more of what her daughters and her friends, far and wide, are doing.
The boys’ views are similarly complicated. All this “talking digitally” can be a real “curse” for teens, they say, especially when it hurts or excludes others. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
After all, the boys say, the whole purpose of technologies from radio to the telephone, TV to the internet, has always been to help us feel less alone and more connected – by helping us create worlds – and build communities – bigger than the ones we’re born into.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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In one of the deadliest racist massacres in recent American history, a white 18-year-old has been accused of shooting and killing 10 people at a Buffalo supermarket on Saturday. Authorities said Payton Gendron of Conklin, New York, shot 11 Black people and two white people in a rampage that he broadcast live.
A 180-page manifesto believed to have been posted on the internet by Gendron before the attacks focused on “replacement theory,” a white-supremacist belief that non-whites will eventually replace white people because they have higher birth rates, according to a copy viewed by ABC News.
“This individual came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he could,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at a news conference Sunday.
Since taking office in August, New York Governor Kathy Hochul has faced several natural and man-made disasters, ranging from deadly Hurricane Ida to the recent subway shootings in Brooklyn. But for the Buffalo native, the racial-motivated mass shooting in her hometown is personal.
In an interview on ABC News on Sunday morning, Hochul expressed her grief and outrage: “Our hearts re broken—and I am angry. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. I will leave no stone unturned to protect the people of this community.”
Democrats lashed out against Republicans who are traditionally strong advocates of the Second Amendment, including the GOP’s third-highest ranking member in the House, upstate New York Rep. Elise Stefanik.
“Did you know: @EliseStefanik pushes white replacement theory?” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) tweeted on Saturday, referring to criticism of her congressional campaign’s Facebook ads hyping fears of a “permanent election insurrection.”
Stefanik, known as a moderate Republican turned Trump acolyte, tweeted a message of condolence upon hearing the news but has not commented on Kinzinger’s allegation.
“We pray for their families. But after we pray—after we get up off of our knees—we’ve got to demand change. We’ve got to demand justice,” New York State Attorney General Letitia James said while attending church services in Buffalo on Sunday morning. “This was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.”
For Hochul, the massacre reflected a failure not just to limit access to guns but to curb the ability to openly share and distribute hate speech.
The governor told ABC that the heads of technology companies “need to be held accountable and assure all of us that they’re taking every step humanly possible to be able to monitor this information.”
“How these depraved ideas are fermenting on social media–it’s spreading like a virus now,” she said, adding that a lack of oversight could lead to others emulating the shooter.
The Buffalo shooting prompted the New York Police Department to provide increased security at Black churches around New York City “in the event of any copycat,” the NYPD said in a statement.
“While we assess there is no threat to New York City stemming from this incident,” the NYPD said in its statement, “out of an abundance of caution, we have shifted counterterrorism and patrol resources to give special attention to a number of locations and areas including major houses of worship in communities of color.”
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