Meanwhile, 2019 was the year the world finally turned against Facebook. The U.S. government slapped the social media monopoly with a US $5-billion fine for repeatedly lying to regulators about the active role it played in the Cambridge Analytica scandal that helped elect Donald Trump. Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, where he squirmed, lied and equivocated in the face of incisive questions from well-informed lawmakers.
In response to the senseless murder of 51 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand—or, rather, in response to Facebook’s live broadcast of the crime to a potential global audience of more than two billion people—the governments of Australia and New Zealand enacted harsh penalties for platforms that propagate hate. They join Germany, France, Japan and the U.K. at the forefront of a global movement to subject social platforms to the rule of law. Here in Canada, a new Canada Elections Act required Facebook to provide a minimum level of transparency about who was paying to run election ads on the platform. And the Privacy Commissioner declared that Facebook repeatedly broke Canadian law, though he doesn’t have the power to punish them for it.
In May, Canada played host to a meeting of the International Grand Committee on Big Data, Privacy and Democracy, a body of legislators from 14 countries, including the U.K., Brazil, France, Mexico and Belgium. While Canada is hardly the leader of this pack, Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer and New Democrat MP Charlie Angus drew international acclaim for their deep policy knowledge and their uncompromising grilling of Facebook’s hapless Canadian lobbyist, Kevin Chan, who tried and failed to change the subject and escape accountability for his company’s innumerable transgressions against law and decency.