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NDP calls for social media watchdog as scrutiny of Facebook heats up

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OTTAWA — New Democrats are demanding the federal government crack down on social media giants following recent revelations by a Facebook executive that have rekindled questions around how to regulate big tech.

NDP MP Charlie Angus called on Ottawa to establish an independent watchdog to address disinformation, hateful posts and algorithm transparency on digital platforms.

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a U.S. Senate committee earlier this month that the company’s products harm children and fuel polarization in the U.S., a claim supported by internal company research leaked to the Wall Street Journal.

“Ms. Haugen reveals that Facebook knew that its algorithms are driving hate content and leading to breakdown in civic engagement,” Angus said.

“Facebook made the decision to incentivize profits through its use of its algorithms over the well-being of its users.”

As the company confronts intense public scrutiny over how its coding fans inflammatory rhetoric and affects users’ self-esteem, Angus is proposing to create an independent ombudsman accountable to the House of Commons, akin to Canada’s ethics and privacy commissioners.

“Rather than relying on outdated institutions like the Competition Bureau or the CRTC, it’s time for the federal government to establish a regulator that actually understands this file,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made several pledges to overhaul internet rules in last month’s federal election.

One promised to introduce legislation within 100 days of forming government that combats harmful online materials, following the failure of a Liberal bill aiming to regulate Facebook and other platforms.

The plan would create a digital safety commissioner to enforce a new regime that targets child pornography, terrorist content, hate speech and other harmful posts on social media platforms. The regulator’s teeth would be sharp enough to order social media companies to take down posts within 24 hours.

Many large platforms already have policies that claim to meet or exceed these requirements, with some seeking to highlight or remove misleading information — about COVID-19 vaccines, for example.

New Democrats and Conservatives have also questioned why a new regulator is needed to crack down on exploitive material when the Criminal Code already bars child pornography, hate speech and the knowing distribution of illicit images.

Trudeau has further said he would reintroduce provisions of Bill C-10, which died in the Senate in August after the election was triggered. The legislation sought to bring global online streaming giants such as Netflix and YouTube under the auspices of the Broadcasting Act, requiring them to promote Canadian content and financially support Canadian cultural industries. The regime is overseen by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

Angus said Monday that the bill amounted to a “political dumpster fire” and that having Canada’s telecommunications regulator address Facebook algorithms would bring “a 1980s solution to a 21st-century problem.”

The legislation provoked months of debate over whether its regulation of online videos amounted to government overreach, with free speech advocates criticizing the bill and the arts community supporting it.

“I think it’s probably better for us to establish a stand-alone officer of Parliament — who reports to Parliament, who understands tech, who understands algorithms — than to turn it over to the schlimazel that is the CRTC,” Angus said, adding that Bill C-10 included “good ideas” around applying broadcast rules for funding to big tech.

Facebook was not immediately available for comment on Monday.

In an emailed statement last week, Facebook Canada said it continues make investments that target misinformation and harmful content.

“Canadians come to Facebook to connect with their loved ones, grow their businesses and share what matters to them,” the company wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2021.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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Arts

Louie Anderson, Emmy-winning comedian, dies at 68

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Louie Anderson, whose more than four-decade career as a comedian and actor included his unlikely, Emmy-winning performance as mom to twin adult sons in the TV series “Baskets,” died Friday. He was 68.

Anderson died at a hospital in Las Vegas of complications from cancer, said Glenn Schwartz, his longtime publicist. Anderson had a a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Schwartz said previously.

Anderson won a 2016 Emmy for best supporting actor for his portrayal of Christine Baskets, mother to twins played by Zach Galifianakis. Anderson received three consecutive Emmy nods for his performance.

He was a familiar face elsewhere on TV, including as host of a revival of the game show “Family Feud” from 1999 to 2002, and on comedy specials and in frequent late-night talk show appearances.

Anderson voiced an animated version of himself as a kid in “Life With Louie.” He created the cartoon series, which first aired in prime time in late 1994 before moving to Saturday morning for its 1995-98 run. Anderson won two Daytime Emmy Awards for the role.

He made guest appearances in several TV series, including “Scrubs” and “Touched by an Angel,” and was on the big screen in 1988′s “Coming to America” and in last year’s sequel to the Eddie Murphy comedy.

Anderson also toured regularly with his stand-up act and as a stand-up comedian.

Lynn Elber, The Associated Press

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International

No national security issue in Chinese takeover of Canadian lithium company: Liberals

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OTTAWA — The pending takeover of a Canadian lithium mining company by a Chinese state-owned company raises no national security concerns, federal Liberals argued Thursday.

Liberal MP Andy Fillmore, parliamentary secretary to Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne, told a House of Commons committee that the Industry Department reviewed last fall the proposed takeover of Neo Lithium Corp. by China’s Zijin Mining Group Ltd.

That review concluded that Neo Lithium is “really not a Canadian company,” he told the industry committee, describing it as an Argentine company with directors in the United Kingdom and only three Canadian employees “on paper.”

He said the only reason Neo Lithium “had any Canadian toehold whatsoever,” was to get on the Toronto Stock Exchange in a bid to raise money for what Fillmore called an “increasingly dubious appearing” mine development project in Argentina.

Moreover, he said that project involves lithium carbonate, not the lithium hydroxide used to manufacture batteries that are critical for electric vehicles.

For those reasons, Fillmore said a formal national security review of the takeover was deemed unnecessary.

“These are the things they found, right? That in fact it’s not a relevant lithium to Canada’s national security interests and it’s not really a Canadian company.”

However, Conservative MP Ed Fast, who had called for the emergency committee meeting to find out why no formal security review was done, said it’s “just false” to say Neo Lithium is not a Canadian company.

And he noted that the company’s own website touts the mine as “the pre-eminent lithium brine asset in the world” to meet surging global demand for electric vehicle batteries.

“It goes without saying but bears restating that critical minerals such as lithium are a strategic asset, not only for Canada but for the world, and will play a critical role in driving our future prosperity and in meeting our environmental objectives,” Fast said.

While the mine in question is in Argentina, Fast argued that it is incumbent on Canada and other “free-trading, rules-following allies” to ensure the global critical minerals industry is not monopolized by one country, especially one whose interests “are sometimes hostile toward ours.”

China currently dominates the world’s supply of lithium and batteries.

Conservative MP Tracy Gray further argued that lithium carbonate can be converted into lithium hydroxide for use in batteries.

But Fillmore countered that the conversion process involves additional costs and “significant environmental implications,” which is why lithium hydroxide is preferred.

“I could probably make a passable hat using my socks but I’d much rather wear a hat,” he said.

Thursday’s meeting was called to consider a motion by Fast, calling for the committee to hold six meetings to explore the Neo Lithium takeover and whether a formal national security review should have been conducted.

In the end, committee members unanimously agreed to a Bloc Quebecois compromise to hold two meetings on the subject next week. The steering subcommittee, which is also to meet next week to set the committee’s agenda for the coming months, could decide to schedule more meetings on Neo Lithium.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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