We live in an age where ordinary people have access to information and the ability to communicate like never before. Individuals are being empowered in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. A person can research a topic, draw their conclusions, and share those ideas with thousands or even millions of people through social media from the comfort of their home with nothing more than a laptop.
This kind of power in the hands of citizens makes authoritarians uncomfortable. Governments have tried to control the Internet since its inception. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has signaled that he wants to take charge when he announced plans for Canada to host representatives from the G7 countries to develop tools to control the flow of information on the Internet. This is a very dangerous way down.
Trudeau claims he just wants to regulate and control the spread of disinformation, but determining what is or isn’t disinformation can be a very subjective thing. In dictatorships, posting criticism of the government would be considered disinformation. In theocratic states, posting criticism of the state religion would be considered disinformation. Do we really want to entrust our government with the power to determine the truth of information?
The information overload that the Internet exposes us to also has disadvantages. There is a mountain of disinformation out there and it can be cleverly disguised as fact. Bots have affected elections, and rumors circulating the internet have caused chaos. Is it the responsibility of the state or the individual to review the information to ensure it is correct?
While it can sometimes feel overwhelming, individuals must take personal responsibility for verifying that the information they have received online is accurate.
The government has long wanted control of the Internet. In 1999, the CRTC announced with great fanfare that, after much deliberation, it had decided not to regulate the Internet at the time. It wasn’t that the broadcast regulator didn’t want to regulate the internet. They just couldn’t figure out how.
Trying to control the internet is something of a game of whack-a-mole. For every source of information that the government can block, three more emerge. Often on foreign soil. Even China and North Korea struggle to prevent information from reaching their citizens, and it’s not for lack of effort. This could be why Trudeau is looking for allies outside of Canada to find a way to control online information. The more countries that register, the better the random information can be controlled.
The Trudeau administration became almost obsessed with its efforts to get a grip on online communications. The C-18 and C-11 bills have both been heavily criticized by civil rights groups and activists for posing a threat to freedom of the press and freedom of expression. Nonetheless, both bills are making their way through Parliament and are expected to be enshrined in law soon. These bills may not impede access to information or communications for determined individuals willing to use services outside the country. That’s probably why Trudeau is trying to build a coalition of countries to take control of online content.
Trudeau also told business leaders attending a B20 summit in Bali that the government intends to tighten regulations related to online hate and that they intend to develop artificial intelligence technologies to that end. While online hate is a concern, do we really need more laws to deal with it?
Laws already apply to most of the dangers posed by the internet and social media. Posting and sharing child pornography images is illegal. Spreading hatred or attempting to incite violence can also be a criminal offense. Defaming people or companies can have legal consequences. Citizens would be better served if the government spent time and energy preventing and prosecuting these crimes online rather than trying to find ways to prevent what they believe to be misinformation.
We are at an informational turning point in modern history. Social media giants have sprung up, with some dominating online discourse. Still evolving, these platforms are currently in turmoil with both Facebook’s meta and Twitter laying off thousands while they restructure. Will further government interference and regulation of these platforms make things better?
Freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of expression are fundamental rights. The Internet has become the global medium for exercising these rights. We cannot stand idly by as the government incrementally violates these freedoms. Information and the ability to share it are too important to let government control. Without freedom of expression and communication, we cannot protect the rest of our rights.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.