Panel discussion: Federal election forum on internet policy at Canadians Connected 2019

Panel discussion: Federal election forum on internet policy at Canadians Connected 2019


♪ [music] ♪ – [Tanya] So, this panel will discuss the
growing internet issues you should know about before you head
to the polls next month. Since the beginning of 2019,
there’s been a number of major digital announcements affecting Canada’s internet
and there’s a lot to keep track of. so we want to help you catch up on where
we find ourselves and understand what key digital policy issues lie
ahead in the election. So, on our panel today,
I would like to welcome…I’m so sorry for the pronunciation,
but Anja Karadeglija who is the editor of the Wire Report, which is a daily
online news outlet that focuses on the Canadian media and telecom industries. She has a team of journalists
on Parliament Hill who report on key political, regulatory,
and business developments in the industry. Also, Laura Tribe, who is the
executive director at OpenMedia, which is a community-based organization
working to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free. Laura has testified before
the CRTC, has appeared before parliamentary committees,
and launched a federal investigation into the RCMP’s use of Stingray
cell phone surveillance devices. And finally, Dr. Elizabeth Dubois, who is
an assistant professor in the Department of Communications and member
of the Center for Law, Technology, and Society at the University of Ottawa. Her work examines
political uses of digital media, including media manipulation,
citizen engagement, and artificial intelligence. So, I think you’ll agree this panel will
be a good follow-up on the discussions that we initially had this
morning with Dr. Cavoukian. Great. So, thank you, ladies. So I guess to get us started on
this conversation, you know, we all live and breathe the space so maybe
we’re all biased, but it does seem like we are hearing a lot more about digital
issues this election campaign more than ever before. Where do you think that these digital
issues that we’re now hearing about fit against some of the more
traditional election issues, be they the economy, healthcare, etc.? – [Anja] Well, I think it’s definitely
true that this election is very different from the last one. Kind of in preparation for this panel,
I looked up our coverage from the 2015 election on telecom, and tech, and digital
issues and we had one story and it was about how nobody was
talking about telecom. So, things have changed and, I mean,
I’m not sure what the reason for that is. I think, you know, affordability
is…political parties are picking up on that this is an issue for Canadians,
it’s something Canadians are talking about more. And, you know, my guess would be is that
these are services, you know, wireless, people’s cell phones, they’re just
increasingly integral to day-to-day life, so increasingly important to voters. – [Laura] [inaudible]. Hello? Can you
hear me? Which microphone is working? Is the microphone on? Can I trade with you? Does this microphone work? There we go. I think to your question around how
internet policy issues connect with all the rest of those issues,
in the work that I do and we do at OpenMedia, they
underpin all of those issues. If you’re talking about access to
the internet and connectivity, in a lot of communities,
that’s the gateway to health care, it’s the gateway to education,
it’s a fundamental element of being able to access all of those services. That said, I don’t think that’s how this
is being talked about in this election. When we’re looking at issues
like cell phone affordability, it’s really being pitched by multiple
parties as this issue that gets straight into people’s pocketbooks as
a quick thing people can relate to, but it’s not really or I haven’t seen
anyone really talking about why it’s a problem, why do we actually need to
make sure that everyone can afford their cell phone bills? What is the value of ensuring
that everyone has connectivity? And although there are such
clear connections, you know, we have a community at OpenMedia that
is solely focused on these issues and even still, we’re hearing pushback
around, “Okay, cell phone bills.” But there’s much bigger issues at play
here and I don’t think that the parties that are even talking about these issues
are really connecting why it matters and why people should care. – So just building on that,
what are the issues we should be talking about then? – Do you want to go first? – [Dr. Dubois] No, this
one is not working. So, I look at how people get their
political information and so similarly, to your perspective, this, kind of,
applies across the board. All of these different issues are impacted
by the kind of access people have to information about what services
are available, about what different parties think, what their
policies are going to be. I think some of the core issues from that
perspective need to be not only access to affordable internet cell
services, but also things like skill and digital literacy. Those kinds of components really play into
some of the conversations we’re having about fears of
disinformation, for example. And so from my perspective,
that’s what I’ve been focusing on, but there are also a bunch of other
related issues like privacy concerns, which I gather you all heard
a lot about this morning. And so, I think that that’s
another core component. – And actually, I’ll also second
this question of connectivity. I was expecting…and it might still
happen, we’re still, you know, relatively early days on,
but the issue of rural broadband and making sure that everybody in Canada
has access to adequate internet service, I was expecting that to be, you know,
a bigger part of the conversation and like I said, it’s still might be. – I think the other thing that’s the big
picture is missing from the conversation, not just around why we need people to be
connected but what do we want the internet to look like when people are connected? We saw a huge talk two years ago about
net neutrality, I spoke at a CIRA event about net neutrality and why that matters
to people and it seems like everyone just, kind of, agreed and moved on. You know, there are huge legislative
changes on the table when it comes to the Broadcast and Television… oh, my goodness, BTLR,
whatever that stands for. – Legislative Review.
– All of a sudden, I blanked. Thank you. And looking at that and the Copyright Act
and all of these rules that oversee our entire internet and communication systems
are up for debate, and no one’s talking about what they want the internet
to look like at the end of that. What do they want the rules to achieve? We’re talking about all of these policies
and processes, but not what the vision is or the end goal of what we want people
to be able to do once they’re online. And there’s tons of issues around privacy,
there’s issues around free expression and what people are able to access on the
internet and talk about on the internet. Talking about misinformation is something
that the parties seem to be completely avoiding because it’s an election and
it’s working to their advantage by all of their different perspectives. And so, that bigger picture of what is the
world that we want the internet to look like is a huge gap in
this conversation, I think. – Are there any parties that are getting
it right or are there any good discussions that are happening or
is it completely absent? – Is this like when you tried to get Ann
this morning to pick a winner on privacy? – It wasn’t me, it was online. – No, none of them are getting it right. They’re each getting it right in different
ways, knowing that these are issues that people care about that
we have to talk about. We’re seeing three of the parties
talk about cell phone affordability. Well, that’s a piece of the puzzle,
we’re seeing…so that’s the Liberals, the Green, and the NDP
are talking about affordability. We’re seeing the Conservatives and
the Green Party talk about privacy. Pieces of the puzzle are on the table, but
we’re not seeing anyone actually talk about what the big picture is, I think. – So this is maybe a
question for you, Elizabeth. Speaking about the election and voting,
in this era of social media, and, you know, what we’ve seen happen elsewhere
around the world, how does social media and other digital
campaigning tools affect elections? And, you know, what about things like
misinformation and online harassment, how is that affecting elections? – In a lot of different ways
is the real short answer. The impact of social media,
search engines, and other digital tools has a bunch of different kinds of impacts
and while it’s being talked about a lot in this election, it’s been the case in
the last few election cycles that we’re seeing innovative uses of technology,
internet-enabled technology specifically, to find ways to connect with voters. And sometimes it’s really helpful because
sometimes it helps create community, and draws people in, and offer support, and so
helps to offer mobilization opportunities for groups around particular issues. And we are still seeing that,
but we’re also seeing the flip side of that where people are being drawn in
often with emotional polls online and they are being enraged over something that
maybe doesn’t exist or something that does exist but actually is a very minor
detail but because it can get people really emotional, we end up focusing on
that emotion rather than a particular policy issue or an issue that
might be a much larger concern. – What do you think the role…and this is
a question for all of you, of course, what do you think the role of these social
media platforms should be in terms of being regulated or should they be
regulated like traditional publishers like media outlets? – Well, I’ll just start off by saying I
don’t have an opinion on anything that I cover. So, going off that, I did just want
to raise that the Green Party, and I think Laura and I had mentioned
this, did have a…I think they’re the only ones that have spoken about this
and they have a proposal where they want to make it so that social media platforms
would have to verify that you’re a real person, so identify you in order for
you to be able to sign up for a social media account like Twitter or Facebook. And that proposal on their platform caused
a bit of a stir, I would say, you know, people pointing out flaws with it, but so
far, I think that is the only party that’s actually brought anything like that up. – That is a bad proposal and I hope I
don’t have to explain to everyone in this room why anonymity is so critical
for free expression, but fundamentally, the groups that we see the most
compromised are the most marginalized. The people that need the ability to speak
out online are not the people who are comfortable identifying themselves,
there’s a reason that they’re scared, that they’re vulnerable and we need
to make sure that there are safe spaces for that. And this is, I’m sure, a very
well-intended proposal but it will have incredibly toxic consequences on the
ability of people to speak freely online. And if that is the way that we’re going to
treat the platforms that people are using the most often, we are going to be
silencing the people who need them and leaving space for the people who are
comfortable to put their name behind just as much crap. It’s not going to fix the misinformation,
it’s not going to fix the information being circulated, it’s just going to mean
that only the people who are really, really comfortable in saying it
are able to do so and that’s very, very rarely the most vulnerable and
marginalized who we need to be protecting and I think that’s such a big issue that
cannot be overlooked and how that’s on the table. More broadly, I think, no,
we cannot be treating social media platforms the same way
that we treat journalism. I don’t treat Anja’s columns and the work
that she does the same way that I treat my aunt sharing information and memes
online and those are very different forms of expression. One is journalistic expression,
one is freedom of expression in a personal interest. And there’s a lot of concerns around
what people are sharing, for sure, and how do we make sure that people
are informed enough to be able to read between opinions, memes,
actual news and distill that down into information to be
informed voters and citizens. But that’s very different than
implementing widespread censorship to try and treat everyone as though they have
to have the same editorial structure as something like
The Globe and Mailor the CBC. – So, I also think the anonymity thing is
a bad plan and I think that it’s really important to recognize that there’s
been tons of studies done on the role of verifiable identities and in almost no
cases does that actually reduce the amount of harassment or hate speech that people
receive or that flows across these different platforms,
so it’s important to consider that. But, kind of, going back to the
publisher question, the argument, kind of, started with, “Well,
these online platforms, they are these dumb conduits,
they just offer the opportunity for content to flow,” and then in
contrast, we said, “No, well, they’re publishers,” and there’s
got to be an in-between. We can’t just say it’s up to our family
members to decide what to post and what not or to us to decide how to take
that on board for two reasons. One reason is because people just
aren’t that media and digital literate, and so we need to recognize that
there have to be interventions. They could be governmental,
they could be from civil society, they could be from platforms,
but there needs to be interventions to help people understand how
that information system works, which is constantly changing. On the other side, social media
platforms and search engine have, as their fundamental business
model, control of information. If we think of all control of information
as censorship, we really are in trouble because none of us can actually consume
all of the information that’s out there or even curate it for ourselves. We need these tools to help us, but we
also need to be sure that these tools are designed in a way that it’s not
incentivizing content that’s going to be harmful or malicious,
that things like our hate speech laws that already should apply can actually be
used and applied in those contexts. Right now, there’s a whole bunch of hate
speech that happens online that nobody can do anything about because the platforms
say, “It’s not my job to look into that content,” and police and other
law enforcement officials say, “We don’t have the capacity and these
platforms haven’t designed themselves in a way that allows that,” and that’s
insufficient for a democratic country. – A good link back to
the privacy by design. You weren’t able to join us this morning,
but Ann Cavoukian did speak exactly about that, about designing platforms
and building privacy, in her case, but all of these regulations right from
the get go, from the design stage. So, I do want to make sure we
take some questions from the room, so I’ll pause here in our list of
questions to see if there are any questions online or in the room. I see we have one online, so Gary asks,
Gary Witnek asks, “Does CIRA have a committee or a board which is dedicated to
formally lobby the Canadian government to legislate as needed to protect
Canadians from misinformation and privacy concerns?” So, I won’t ask that of anyone
on the panel, so perhaps, Byron, do you want to join us for a second and
answer or if we can get you to a mic? Can we get a mic to Byron? We’ll have a guest
panelist here for a second. Yes, so the question is,
“Does CIRA have a committee or a board which is dedicated to formally lobby the
Canadian government to legislate as needed to protect Canadians from
misinformation and privacy concerns?” – [Byron] The short answer is no,
there is no committee or board at CIRA that does something like that. We do have… as I think we mentioned earlier,
there is a representative from the Government of Canada from the ISED
who sits on our board as an observer. So, anytime we have conversations
about these types of things, they are there in the room listening,
but they are not an active participant typically on issues like this. But anytime we, at a board level are
talking about these types of issues, that person is there. – And I will add that CIRA’s opinion is
also often sought out by a number of government…whether they be government
committees or government departments as they work on a number of issues,
legislative pieces, things like that. So, we have a number of
opportunities to consult that way too. So, yes, there’s a question over here. – [Man] Hi, yes, just really quickly,
I think this is the perfect group of people to ask because you’ve all
had some sort of freelance journalism experience in your past
in some way, it seemed like. When you talked about that interesting
point of somebody sharing something on Facebook versus something that may
be on your rote or something like that, what is the difference in terms of there’s
a lot of freelance out there now who are journalists that are writing things and
they’re really just personal blogs, but they’re branding them and advertising
them as facts and things like that. And so, how do you combat something like
that whereas you’re saying, “Well, no, it was on this website and it looks like
it’s journalism so it must be journalism,” when in fact, there might be things that
people share on Facebook that might actually be more legitimate than some
of the things you would find there. So, how do you combat
and fight those things? – So one kind of point to make,
when we were talking about the idea of should these platforms be
regulated as if they’re publishers, I think that often is talked about in the
context of how these companies are taxed, what kinds of responsibility they have
over their content, and not necessarily in terms of whether or not they are
supporting freelance journalists and the way that journalists get jobs or don’t get
jobs and how their content’s interpreted. I think those are meaningfully different
conversations to be had, both important. In terms of how do we deal with
content that looks like journalism as we traditionally understood it, but maybe
isn’t coming from somebody who went to a J school and was taught journalistic ethics
and is protected by an outlet that has a legal team to support them in
their journalistic endeavors? And the answer is it’s a really murky
territory and we don’t have a good way of dealing with that,
which is why we’ve turned towards things like media and digital literacy to
encourage people to spend time thinking about why did this show up on my
screen, who’s created it, what went into that creation, and to start asking
questions as citizens of the information that’s showing up. – Yeah, I mean, I think murky is
the right word, whereas, personally, I might find it frustrating if I see
something that is political opinion masquerading as journalism and recognizing
how that differs from what we do, which is we always try to be neutral,
and fact-based reporting, and all of that, but, I mean, how do you regulate that? You don’t, because then you’re starting to
get into, you know, government censorship, the government deciding what is
journalism and that’s a road I personally wouldn’t want to go down. – That’s a good…Oh, did
you want to add to it? No. – [Lynne] Hi, my name is Lynne Hamilton,
I’m the president of the Internet Society Canada Chapter, but I’m also
the past president of Equal Voice, which is an organization dedicated
to getting more women elected. So I’m looking to you, ladies,
for some guidance because I think Elizabeth May was…her heart was in the
right place, but I don’t think it had been fully thought through. We all know the harsh reality that is
Twitter and online backlash specifically stops more women from wanting
to take part in the political process, it’s a huge barrier. How do we…at the same time as we want
to protect women from the kind of vitriol that they get and it’s markedly worse
for women than it is for men, clearly, how do we make it a safe place for women
to be online, while at the same time making sure that if there’s a
politician that you really don’t like, the people are allowed to say
what they want to say about them? Any tips? – You are asking me to defeat systemic
racism and the patriarchy with some sort of technological solution
and I’m not sure that we can do that.
– Yes, please. Yes, please. Yeah. – I’ll give it some thought. I think these are…there is no doubt that
those problems are exacerbated online, that vitriol exists in person,
it’s exacerbated when you can stand behind, you know,
the distance of your computer screen from whatever and
whoever you’re targeting. But I think that there are bigger issues
and a lot of the solutions that are being sought are technological solutions to
societal problems and that’s where we keep tripping ourselves up is thinking that
some technology is going to fix the fact that there’s real hate going on in
the world and we need to fix that. When we’re looking at hate
speech online, it’s hate speech. It’s not some sort of weird thing
that exists just on the internet, it’s hate speech, we have laws about it
and we need to be able to use that. So when we’re talking about the police not
knowing how to handle these issues, that’s a problem. If there is illegal behavior happening
online, it needs to be treated as though it was done in person. There need to be ramifications
for saying that kind of, you know, death threats and incredibly misogynistic
content that females, in particular, women of color running for office
have to face by virtue of putting themselves out there. But I don’t think that there’s a
simple technological solution, I think that we need to actually
make sure that there is that education, not just for the platforms,
not just for the people reading the content, but for the people who are
expected to enforce it as to what the consequences are of not actually
addressing those issues and I think we need to see people call it out. Like, in the meantime, part of
that societal thing that makes it okay is it just exists and then
we go, “Oh, that’s the internet, people are crappy.” But it needs to be societally unacceptable
to act like that so that women who do step up that want to speak out online know
that there is support for them doing so, that it’s actually something that people
want, because if they’re just left to hang out there by themselves and watch
themselves torn apart by, you know, hateful people who are looking
to perpetuate the status quo, then it is really discouraging. But when you see women like AOC come out
there and have people get really excited and defend her, that’s something that
shows people of color and women of color that they can do that and I think we need
more of that type of societal behavior as opposed to a technological solution. – Positive trolls. – Yes, positive trolls, good frame. [inaudible]. – So we’ve got a question online,
“Should the media get involved in challenging politicians’ promises on
wireless and so many citizens know they’re not realistic?” – Well, I mean, I would want to ask,
you know, which promises are you talking about and, you know,
why are they not realistic necessarily? So, for example, let’s talk about
the Liberal Party’s promise, they say that they want to lower
wireless prices by 25% over 4 years and the industry has already come
out and said, “Well, prices are falling, we’ve already achieved that,” and that’s
a whole separate discussion to get all together. So, you know, I’m not sure that
there’s anything unrealistic there. Maybe you’re referring to the NDP promise
to institute price caps and I think that it’s difficult because you
obviously…like I was saying earlier, you want to remain neutral and you want to
remain unbiased, but at the same time, I think it is important for media
to be asking questions like, “How would this work?” You know, explain this to me,
how would you, you know…? Okay, so the NDP example,
they would have the CRTC set rates. Okay, well, how would a rate-setting
process that’s going to take probably, you know, a number of years, how
does that keep up with the market? So, you know, it is up to the media to
ask these hard questions and to ask politicians to explain what they mean
and give the level of detail necessary and I think that’s our job
and that’s what I try to do. – Hi, JF, thank you for your question. The answer is, yes, the media
should definitely get involved. I think it’s not just around
politicians’ promises on wireless, I think that’s the job of the media. It’s an election, they’re promising
everything they can to get elected and they want to make sure you like
what they’re saying and we need to know what’s realistic. What’s something that we can actually hold
them accountable to after they’re elected? And promises that just say,
“We’re going to fix it,” don’t have a lot of substance behind them and so
I think it’s definitely the media’s job. I will say as someone who lost their
entire Monday to media interviews about the Liberal’s plan on cell
phones, they’re asking those questions. I think the biggest challenge that we
have, particularly when it comes to issues around internet policy and things that are
discussed by a lot of the CIRA membership, is that these are really complicated
issues, they’re super technical. I spent half of my time doing media
interviews explaining to journalists to make sure they understand the issue
before they start asking me questions about it, to make sure that they’re
able to ask the right questions or get the right answers. And this is because…you know,
we can talk about the state of journalism overall,
that’s a totally different panel discussion, but I think when you
look at, you know, someone like Anja, there’s not a lot of people who are able
to be dedicated to this beat to make sure that it is something they understand
through and through and it’s really complicated. And I think it’s not just the job of
media to hold them accountable, but it’s all of our jobs to point out when
there are questions to be asked because I will guarantee you that media are looking
to make sure they can see trends popping up and know where they need to
poke holes in some of those policies. – And, I mean, media, in general,
there are internet issues, telecom, this is what I live and breathe every day
but it’s not what most journalists live and breathe every day, so the
kind of questions that I would ask, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect
them to have that same level of knowledge or to expect them to have the kind of time
to devote to asking those questions. So, you know, I can think of
so many questions that I would like to know the answers to. For example, the Green Party proposal
to strike a parliamentary committee to determine whether we
should go ahead with 5G. I would really like to know more,
I have lots of questions about that. The NDP is saying that, you know,
“The Liberal plan to get universal access to the CRTC’s basic service standards
for everybody in Canada is…you know, 10 years is too long,
we would do it faster.” How much faster? How would you do that? So, yeah, yeah, sorry, lots of
questions to be asked that I would like to know the answer to. – Can I ask Anja a question? – Yeah.
– Sure. – Hey, Anja, how hard is it to get answers
from the political parties when you have those questions? – That is a good question. It depends on…
– Do they have the answers? – Honestly, sometimes they do. I’ve been doing a lot of election
coverage, I’ve been…as with every promise, with every platform,
I’ve been, kind of, digging into it and asking them this question. So far, the NDP has answered my questions,
the Liberals have answered my questions. The Green Party did not, I didn’t
get anybody on the record, but I was able to speak to people in background
who were able to answer maybe 50% of my questions, so that’s,
kind of, where we’re at. But that being said,
that means that the majority has been responsive, I was able to
get the story out the same day. – I was saving this question for last but
you’ve just thrown me the perfect bone. What should the people in the
room, the people online today, what questions should they be asking their
candidates in their writings, the parties? What are the things that the average
Canadian should be asking? – Well, since you brought it up,
OpenMedia has put forward…we’ve actually built a tool to let people email their
candidates and their writings directly to ask them whatever you want. So, we have put forward the issues that
we think are relevant for this election, we’ve put together a platform for the
issues that we think need to be on the table and ways for you to connect with
your local candidates, but I would say, don’t stop there,
don’t take my word for it. If it’s an issue that matters
to you, this is your chance. This is your time to email them and
ask, that’s what elections are for. There is no time that they need us more
than when they are trying to get a job from us. And so, ultimately, this is our best
chance to make sure that whatever issue it is, whatever beef you have with
your representation, with the policies, with the platforms, this is
your chance to raise it. And so I think when we’re
looking at internet policy issues, there are some issues that are on the
record, I think the biggest thing that we should be pressuring the parties, and the
leaders, and the candidates on is where they stand, because it’s one thing to
pick apart the policy pieces that we know about, it’s more concerning
to me that they’re silent on issues. If no one’s talking about privacy,
does that mean they don’t care, they don’t know? Or they think, “I don’t care?” How do I pressure them to make sure that
they’re willing to take a position on it so I can make a good judgment? The same thing when it comes to free
speech online, the same thing when it comes to connectivity in rural areas. If they haven’t talked about it,
they don’t think you care. And so I think, fundamentally,
it’s important for us to make sure that we are pushing them as far as we can,
asking all the questions that we need, because in some cases, they may
not know it’s an issue they need to talk about or they may not have thought
about it and this is really our chance to put it on their radar. Thank you for the pitch. – I would add that email is a great way to
start, but showing up and physically being in the same room as the candidates
in your writing works really well. So, show up and ask them questions about
those issues that you do care about. I’m not going to tell you what I
think the top issue should be, but I will bring up one that I think is
really important and I think it’s this issue of what’s the relationship going to
be between government and tech companies? And we talked a little bit about this
idea of are they publishers or not, but I actually mean the relationship
between them because the major tech companies, they all have staff in
Ottawa and they are both salespeople, and lobbyists, and community outreach folks. The way that relationship works ends up
having a meaningful impact on the way policies get designed that then regulate
or don’t their activities in Canada. And so, I think we need to think more
about what we want that relationship to look like and we need our elected
representatives to have thought about that and when they get in Parliament,
be able to think critically about what that relationship should be. – And I’m also not going to, you
know, tell you what…you know, what the issues are that you care about
and I think I would just second that. I think, you know, you should be asking
them, even if it is maybe…especially if it is something that candidates
aren’t bringing up themselves. So, you know, I would just say don’t be
afraid to bring up issues that you care about and it’s actually something
I, you know, tell my reporters, “Don’t be afraid to ask follow-ups.” Don’t be afraid to ask, “Well, how come? Why? How would that work? Can you explain that to me?” And then, you know, you’ll get a fuller
response and really be able to make an informed decision about whether
that answer is satisfactory. – All right, thanks. And I know there are some questions and
some hands have been up for a long time but I committed to try to balance
getting us back on track and leaving time for questions. So, some of our panelists will be here for
a glass of wine after, I hope, and if not, as Byron and Helen have mentioned,
certainly, CIRA staff will be around and we’re pleased to keep answering your
questions and keep discussing these issues with you. So, on that note, thank you very
much to our wonderful panel. ♪ [music] ♪

Danny Hutson

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