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NDP MP introduces bill to combat online hate speech

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Incidents of online hate speech are on the rise and an NDP MP is introducing new legislation to stop it.

Peter Julian hosted a town hall in partnership with the Dalhousie University Student Union on Saturday in Halifax to promote the bill.

Julian said the cause of the problem is social media algorithms.

“The algorithms that are there now are secret, and algorithms have a tendency we’ve seen from numerous studies to push hate-filled content on people.”

Social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google are not required to share their algorithms with the public.

Julian tabled a bill in Canada’s House of Commons called Bill C-292, also known as the Online Algorithm Transparency Act.

He hopes the legislation could bring changes to social media platforms.

“It will force big tech companies to actually be transparent about the algorithms they use that often benefit this extremism,” said Julian. “It also increases their profit, but it has a profoundly detrimental effect on society.”

Julian says the purpose of the bill is to ensure that online communication service providers do not rely on algorithms that use personal information in a manner that results in adverse treatments of any person or group based on grounds of discrimination. It would also require transparency with its use of the algorithmic processes and content moderation.

Local groups that participated as panel guests included Dalhousie Student Union President Aparna Mohan, Acadia University Associate Professor Kesa Munroe-Anderson, President of the Mulsim Society at Saint Mary’s University Ammar Shakoor and Nova Scotia MLA Lisa Lachance.

The group said that online hate speech increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Munroe-Anderson also noted that online violence has resulted in an increase in hate crimes, with Nova Scotia seeing some of the highest numbers across the country.

“Statistics show that hate crimes rose per one hundred people in Nova Scotia, increased by 70 per cent, the steepest increase in Canada,” said Munroe-Anderson.

With there being a larger move to more online interactions, sociology and social anthropology experts said the number of media sources to engage with increased, which caused people to join groups with certain ideological beliefs, including some that are extreme.

“It’s increasingly leading people to sort of align themselves with niche groups who are taking very particular views on political matters,” said Matthew Gagne, assistant professor at Dalhousie University.

While forcing tech companies to share their algorithms is a step forward, Gagne said it is difficult to know whether or not this will decrease online hate speech.

“We tend to give algorithms a lot of power because they are so obscure to us. We see these algorithms as a black box where we can see inside them so we just use them to describe and explain the changes that are happening,” he said. “It’s just not enough to just go after the algorithm. There’s obviously a whole set of social issues there.”

Nova Scotia was Julian’s first stop to promote his online algorithm transparency bill. Julian will be making stops across the country over the next few months to garner support to pass the legislation.

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