Evidence of meeting #156 for Justice and Human Rights in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was facebook.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Kevin Chan  Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

9:30 a.m.

NDP

Randall Garrison NDP Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke, BC

Thanks very much.

I'll just pick up very briefly on what Mr. Boissonnault said. I've been involved for many years in trying to recruit LGBT candidates to run for public office. One of the most frequent reasons, if not the most frequent reason, cited by those people is the online hate they know they will face. It's a very real thing. I think Mr. Boissonnault's suggestion is very good.

There are two things you said in your testimony that I want to come back to. One of those I want to flag is that, when you talk about stance for permissible speech, that concerns me. What I'm looking for is grounds for prohibited speech. I think when you stray over that line and start talking about permissible speech, we're into concerns that I would share about free speech. We're talking about what speech should be prohibited because of its real and negative impacts in the community.

I guess I'm cautioning everybody, including myself, not to fall across that line into saying what is permitted, but instead what is prohibited because of its real-life impacts.

The other one of those, and I'm going to ask you about it, is your talking about over-rotation and false positives, and I guess my question really is: is that a real problem? If it's hate speech or promotional violence, there is an urgency for its removal. If it's not, it can be reposted at any time. There's not an urgency or a necessity to respond to that within 24 hours or whatever your standard is. If you find you are wrong, it can be put back up. If you find someone complains that they've been unjustly banned, you can deal with that.

There's an urgency with the hate and violence piece there that I think concerns me when you say that you're concerned about that part of the false positives, because you can correct that, but once the pieces of hate and promotional violence are out there, they're very difficult to find and stop, as you know. You can't really get rid of them once they're out there.

I guess I would just ask you about that concern, because I would err on the side of urgency for removal, and you can fix the other things.

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I know. I hear you.

I think that actually comes to the core of what we're talking about in terms of a free and open Internet. I think historically, it's been the case that people should be able to express themselves and that they don't need to seek permission from some authority or some editor to say what they want before they say it. I think that's what we're discussing today.

The other thing I should point out, obviously, is that I think it's fair to say that what seems to be coming from people's discussions about this is the question of whether there should be a different standard for speech online than for that offline. I think a lot of the things we're talking about right now as examples online would actually be permissible in the offline world, which is why it comes down to a question of how we are mapping speech online versus offline.

Mr. Chair, I know we're almost out of time, but I would add that our content policies are actually driven by UN documents—including those on civil and political rights as well as those on human rights. When we look at these documents, they actually say that people should be able to communicate and associate with whomever they want regardless of medium. This is our North Star. We take this as a very important element of how we frame up our committee standards.

I guess what we're asking is that to the extent that parliaments of the world and governments of the world wish to have a different standard for online speech, then they should pass those laws, and it will be very clear to us what baseline standards we should be enforcing.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much.

Mr. Virani.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

I have just a few comments, Mr. Chan. Thank you for being here.

You're sensing unanimity, which is rare amongst the three of us, on Facebook's unaccountability, but on that last point, different countries regulate speech differently, right? That's point number one.

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

That's correct, yes.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Constitutionally protected free speech exists in Canada but it has limitations. The issue I think you're conflating is how you apply currently existing limitations on free speech, which exist for hatred, for defamation, for slander, for copyright, etc., to the online world. So that's the first point.

The second point is that if you're going to protect candidates, you need to protect all vulnerable candidates. Let's talk about the Islamophopia that Iqra Khalid faced. Let's talk about indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan in the wake of the death of Colten Boushie and the Gerald Stanley trial. You need to be thinking about this across the board, because there's a problem recruiting anyone who's Muslim, Jewish, indigenous, or black to get into this seat and into this chamber when we have such invective spreading online.

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I understand.

June 6th, 2019 / 9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

I would also add that I, like Randy, have a staffer who handles this stuff, but now I'm concerned about her mental health as opposed to mine. Mental health concerns apply to all humans, not just parliamentarians.

I want to address what I would actually call a culture of impunity at Facebook. I want you to respond to this, because I find it a bit problematic. The only remedy I can see for the culture of impunity is heavy-handed regulatory action. I'll raise to you the example of Germany. From what I understand, Germany has a robust legislative mechanism for regulating hatred online. If you take exactly the same neo-Nazi completely hatred-filled invective from any city in Canada and you change the location and dates and place that in Munich, all of a sudden, it disappears. That leads me to believe that when you guys are faced with tough penalties, you'll actually put the staff in place to ensure that that material is removed. If that's not the case, then please explain to me what is the case.

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

That kind of content would be removed on Facebook regardless of where it is because it's a violation of our global community standards.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Is it correct or incorrect that you have thousands more staff regulating online content in Germany because of the legislation as compared to what you have in this country?

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I think there are some requirements in the law.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

So it that a yes?

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

There are people in Germany who do content moderation.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

How many more people in Germany do content moderation compared to how many do it in Canada?

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I don't have that information on it.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Arif Virani Liberal Parkdale—High Park, ON

Could you undertake to provide us that information?

9:35 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I'll try.

If I may say, Mr. Chair, I just want to be very clear. What we're here to do is to talk about how we regulate online speech. I myself have been subject to criticism, I think unwarranted, especially after I have moved against hate figures and hate organizations. I can tell you that my global security team is watching to make sure that I stay safe. Even coming here was a question. I just want to make it very clear to members here that I understand what you're talking about.

I also want to be clear that the principles we're talking about—freedom of expression and the balance between freedom of expression and censorship—are incredibly important, and we can't lose sight of those.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much. I think we all share that sense that freedom of expression is very important and we need to balance what we call “hate speech”.

If it's okay with colleagues, I have one short question.

The definition of “lethal” that I find in the dictionary is “sufficient to cause death”. While I really appreciate this document that's been created for women candidates to encourage them to run and to show that Facebook cares about their safety, I turn to page 8 and I read what Facebook doesn't allow. It does not allow posting of content “about anyone, including a public figure, that contains” the following:

Any statements of intent to commit lethal violence, or

Any calls for action of lethal violence, or

Any statements advocating lethal violence

What that means, according to the dictionary, is“sufficient to cause death”. You could say, for example, “I believe that somebody should break both of Anthony Housefather's legs”. That wouldn't be lethal. According to this, it sounds like it would be permitted. I'm wondering why. Again, I believe it's very important. People should be able to say negative things about public figures, but when you're advocating that somebody should be hurt, physically hurt, why does that not stray across the line of Facebook's standards?

9:40 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

No, I think our standard is.... Again, I can't speak to the definition of “lethal” or the use of the word in the document specifically, but we talk about “credible threats” of violence.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

I'm suggesting that if the case isn't that you're only sticking to “lethal”, you might want to change the wording in this book.

9:40 a.m.

Global Policy Director, Facebook Inc.

Kevin Chan

I appreciate your feedback, but if you go to “Community Standards”, we talk there about “credible threats” of violence.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Anthony Housefather

Thank you very much, and I thank my colleagues.

This is our last public hearing on online hate. We really appreciate that you came here today, Mr. Chan. It's very much appreciated.

I'm going to briefly suspend. We're going to clear the room and then we're going into our in camera meeting to prepare our report.

[Proceedings continue in camera]