Canada‘s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked “flat-earthers” and “anti-vaxxers” to call for a crackdown on “disinformation” online. He made the comments during a town hall event in Ottawa last week.
Trudeau began by saying the government should find a balance between censorship and free speech to protect people from disinformation.
“Governments have very limited tools to protect people in an online world, which is a good thing. It allows for a tremendous amount of freedom – freedom of expression, freedom of discovery – no oppressive governments controlling what you see, what you want, but it also opens us up to a tremendous amount of crap, of hate speech, of things that are illegal, but also things that are just going to bring us down roads where we’re going to get lost,” he said.
He then talked about misinformation in terms of anti-vaxxers and flat-earthers.
“I remember a few years ago before the pandemic, getting really fascinated by flat-earthers, and trying to understand – sort of – the thinking behind them, of people who decided actively to create an identity for themselves that was to just clearly reject what science settled thousands of years ago with the ancient Greeks and that there’s no real contrast to,” he explained.
“It’s more of an identity thing rather than a reasoning thing, and to have people sucked into that, it was fascinating to try and see what it was all about.
“And of course, we went on to understand the phenomenon of anti-vaxxers and anti-science, anti-skeptics, and this rise in these echo chambers that are validating this kind of thinking in ways that have real consequences.
“There are people in Canada who died surrounded by their families because they truly and genuinely believed that the vaccine was more dangerous than the virus, and it killed them.”
The PM then argued that online platforms should be held responsible for the content they host.
“My responsibility as Prime Minister is to try and keep everyone in this country as safe as I possibly can, but I can’t protect everyone from every bit of disinformation on the Internet. So we have to have reflections of how we move forward, how we responsibilize the companies that are controlling so much, the private companies that are controlling so much of the public square you now live in that doesn’t have police paid by your taxes to keep you safe.”
“It doesn’t have rules around businesses to regulate so you don’t get scammed by the corner store. This is the new world we’re in that we’re going to have to try and adjust to, and I can tell you, I’m worried about the direction we’re going.”