Evidence of meeting #46 for Canadian Heritage in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was information.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kevin Chan  Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.
Jason Kee  Counsel, Public Policy and Government Relations, Google Canada
Aaron Brindle  Head, Communications and Public Affairs, Google Canada
Marc Dinsdale  Head, Media Partnerships, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.
Julien Brazeau  Associate Deputy Commissioner, Competition Promotion Branch, Competition Bureau
Anthony Durocher  Deputy Commissioner, Monopolistic Practices Directorate, Competition Bureau

4:10 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

We talked a bit about that at the women's science event over the weekend in Toronto.

I think letters to the editor are letters to the editor. Many people who are posting and sharing on Facebook are sharing with each other. While I can see why Mr. Greenspon would say that, I don't think that on deeper analysis the comparison is apt.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

All right.

You both mentioned satire, which is an interesting twist on all this fake news and on how to identify fake news as well.

I guess what I'm wondering is this. We're using the term fake news, but do your organizations, Google and Facebook, have a term called “fake news” or a definition for it?

4:10 p.m.

Counsel, Public Policy and Government Relations, Google Canada

Jason Kee

Internally we tend to use the phrase “misrepresentative content”, mostly because I don't think the term “fake news” has any defined, cogent meaning anymore.

Richard Gingras was here previously, and pointed out that it took three weeks in the United States for fake news to become egregious, clearly misrepresentative sites from 15-year-olds in Macedonia who are trying to capitalize and make money off perpetuating fake information to CNN and The New York Times.

Clearly, the challenge has been that there actually is no clear definition. “Misrepresentative content” clearly identifies the most egregious instances of it and also covers the instances in which we are capable of taking action much more readily.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Facebook, do you have a definition? Do you use the term “fake news”?

4:10 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I would just echo the point that what we're looking at initially is content that is clearly not true. Regardless of how one may term it, what we're looking at is making sure that people who see content have a reliable sense that it is authentic content. That's what we're looking to ensure.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Thank you.

We're going to move on now to Mr. Van Loan from the Conservatives, for seven minutes, please.

February 14th, 2017 / 4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Madam Dabrusin just talked about satire. I think of Sarah Palin being labelled as having said, as we all famously know, “I can see Canada from my house”. If you really know, it was never her who said that. That was Saturday Night Live's Tina Fey satirizing her, but most people think that's what she actually said.

That was well before the current controversies we're facing. In fact, I've pointed out that whether you're looking at the old tabloids or old newspapers that used to write from clear perspective.... Mr. Greenspon's Globe and Mail was constantly filled with stuff about Sir John A. Macdonald that was patently false, a lot of which is used as sources in our history books these days, because it was writing from a perspective

I'm of the view that because we're dealing with new technologies and new forms, the problems people point to about so-called fake news are problems of people adapting their media literacy. People are pretty good skeptics. I think historically they've been able to sort that out, getting the information. The challenge now is some people who, dealing with new technology, can't discern credible from non-credible sources.

I look at my own feed, and I was just looking through it now, and I went through about seven stories where someone corrected why that wasn't true or why that was satire or so on. People are picking that up and they're learning it from others. People are posting the alternate information, alternate facts, which has now become satire as well, but are giving the sources of information that prove why that story may not be true. People can assess.

What I enjoy hearing from you is the suggestion that part of what you're trying to do is focus a bit on encouraging the new media literacy. I think it will come on its own naturally, but anything done to encourage it is good.

What troubles me is the notion that you, I think, are viewed largely as a neutral infrastructure for information. Where do you cross over into becoming a controller of information and deciding, as editors, what is and isn't available? People are complaining from time to time that they get blocked and so on. I come down more on the side of freedom, and let the marketplace of ideas play itself out.

4:15 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

It's good to see you again, sir.

Thank you very much for your encouragement with respect to news literacy. I agree, I think we agree, that it is actually a key component of this. It's not an easy thing to do, but it actually requires a broader societal effort.

With respect to your question about being the arbiters of truth, as I noted in the opening statement, we certainly do not want to be that. That is why we are being very careful about how we put together initiatives to address the issue of fake news. That is precisely why we are working in partnership, and why Marc has spent a lot of time in the last little while speaking to other third-party media organizations to try to see whether or not organizations that have traditionally been focused on these types of questions would be willing to partner and engage on this stuff. We certainly do not believe we are equipped to do it, and we certainly don't profess to have the expertise to do it.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

Mr. Kee, do you have anything you want to add to that?

4:15 p.m.

Counsel, Public Policy and Government Relations, Google Canada

Jason Kee

We would share the sentiment that we certainly don't want to be in a position to be the arbiters of truth. It is important to recognize that from a perspective of a search company, our purpose is to try to help our users find the most relevant information available. We respond to the inquiries we get. We respond basically to queries. We respond to those.

There are clearly algorithms that will sort that information, but it's based on what their query is as opposed to actual preferences.

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

I'm going to throw a curveball at you here. The StarPhoenix just reported that a Saskatchewan man has been found guilty of uttering threats on Facebook against the Prime Minister. He's been fined $500, given nine months' probation, and so on.

There isn't a municipal police force in this country that all of a sudden doesn't have a number of people looking at Facebook, looking at Google, every hour for these stories. It has cost the taxpayers of this country millions of dollars.

Facebook, you've done very well. Google, you've done exceptionally. You talk a good game. Now all of a sudden I can go into the Saskatoon city police and I know there's a room 24-7 designated for watching Facebook and Google sites for this kind of information.

Who's going to pay for this other than the taxpayers of Canada?

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

Sir, on this particular point I'm not entirely sure that I understand what the police service may actually be doing. I can say that in some of the cases we've heard about, it's typically people who may report certain things they have heard others utter, and we have a process and good relationships with law enforcement whereby we can co-operate to ensure that things that are in violation of Canadian law are dealt with appropriately.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Does Facebook Canada deal with it, or where does this come from?

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

We would work with the local law enforcement.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Who is “we?”

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

It's the platform. It would depend on the specific case involved, but we are a global platform, so it depends on what particular issue we were talking about. Obviously—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Do you monitor this? Do you monitor stories like this? Do you monitor stories such as that about the Alberta premier being harassed every hour?

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

Do we monitor it—?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Or do you just leave it to the public to do it?

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

There are a couple of levels to this. As you know, sir, as we've talked about in the past, we have very good relationships with law enforcement and with government officials to make sure that we are able to be helpful with them when they encounter particular challenges.

But on the broader question about whether a platform or we—I think I can speak about all of our platforms—monitor the communications of the people.... We are very careful about the privacy rights of Canadians. There is a privacy law in this country, so if the question is whether or not there is an entity surveilling the communications of Canadians, the answer, at least from Facebook, is no.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Waugh Conservative Saskatoon—Grasswood, SK

Okay.

When you flag a story—

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Hedy Fry

I'm sorry, Mr. Waugh, we've finished.

Now we will go to Mr. Nantel from the NDP.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

First of all, thank you for coming back to take part in our study. We are very pleased.

You must know that, in the view of everyone around the table, you have been real agents of change in recent years. Some companies are now facing competition that they might not have seen coming.

As to advertising revenues, while I was listening to the conversation, I was surfing the Internet and found that Facebook's advertising revenues rose from roughly $7.8 billion in 2013 to nearly $18 billion in 2015. I also found that your shareholder documents have reported that your advertising sales have recently shot up by close to 57%. So you are doing well financially speaking.

Did you anticipate that kind of growth at Facebook? I have heard you talk about this before and I got the sense that you were a bit surprised. Being able to print money is great thing, if I may say so, but it comes with a heavy responsibility to society.

Did your business plans at Facebook anticipate that you would make so much money, from advertising in particular? In any case, those are your only revenues, are they not?

4:20 p.m.

Head, Public Policy, Facebook Canada, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

It is true that most of our revenues are from advertising. That said, I don't think anyone anticipated from the outset that Facebook would be so successful. Thank you, by the way.

One thing we have talked about often is the degree to which companies that are operating in the space actually face many competitive challenges. You may recall that there was a time not so long ago when people were writing articles saying that Facebook would not be able to make the conversion to mobile and that it would ultimately not be a successful platform.

That is something we oftentimes remind ourselves of, because while we can appreciate that things have been going relatively well, we are very mindful that things can turn on a dime. There was a very key moment just a few years ago, again with this migration to mobile, and the question was that we didn't have an app. You'll recall that Facebook originally was a desktop platform, and there was a big question about whether or not we could make that transition.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, QC

I was about to ask you about that. Who is your competition?

In going through the shareholder brochure from Google, we see that social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter are big competition. That document also says that competitors include “General purpose search engines and information services, such as Yahoo, Microsoft's Bing, Yandex, Baidu, Naver, WebCrawler, and MyWebSearch”. That's in the first line under “Competitors”.

Really? I remember using Yahoo 20 years ago. Aren't you the main—95%—search engine offered?