Restricted access: New Brunswick addresses offensive comments on its social media
The comments section on social media can be an overwhelming and hostile place, especially when it comes to matters of vaccines and the pandemic.
In a recent social media post, the New Brunswick Government said it has received requests to turn off the comments section on COVID-19 updates for that reason.
So the question is, how do we allow freedom of speech while also protecting ourselves from toxic opinions and misinformation?
Digital anthropologist Giles Crouch said when he saw the New Brunswick Government's explanation to restrict or remove some social media posts, he saw it coming from a mile away.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see this happen with more provinces and municipalities," said Crouch. "Especially when they're putting out messages like this."
Crouch points out that tensions in the world and on social media have grown to extreme levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The anti-vaxers are getting more and more vocal," Crouch said. "We are seeing it in Canada and the United States as well."
He said the volume of negativity on many platforms has reached alarming levels.
"It gets to a point where there are so many comments it's almost impossible to manage those comments on a regular basis," said Crouch.
In a statement, the New Brunswick Department of Health clarified its stance.
"Government has not changed its approach to management of its social media channels. All of our channels have always been moderated and our terms of engagement are posted online. Recently, there have been an increased number of requests from our Facebook audience to turn off the ability to comment, especially on COVID-19 posts," the statement reads.
Legal and constitutional expert Wayne Mackay said the overriding question is this: does removing the ability to comment online infringe on freedom of speech?
"It's a tricky question. There clearly is freedom of speech, and that continues in a time of crisis when in some ways it is even more important," said MacKay.
He said limiting free speech during times of crisis has happened in the past.
"But you have to be able to justify it," he said.
MacKay said many comments are now reaching such harmful and abusive levels, the subject has entered a zone of unchartered territory when it comes to the limits of free speech.