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'Can Canada survive Facebook?' Burnaby South candidates to debate social media regulation

Public discourse is becoming increasingly concentrated on Facebook and that could have dire consequences for Canada’s democracy.
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Candidates in the Feb. 25 Burnaby South byelection are being asked questions about affordable housing, immigration, climate change and many more issues facing the community and country.

But a debate on Wednesday, Feb. 6 will drill down on one existential unknown: “Can Canada survive Facebook?”

 Posting on Facebook (Seasontime / Shutterstock.com)Posting on Facebook (Seasontime / Shutterstock.com)

The forum will be hosted by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a media lobbyist, at the Grand Villa Burnaby Hotel (4331 Dominion St.) starting at 7 p.m.

Conservative Jay Shin, Liberal Richard Lee, New Democrat Jagmeet Singh and Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson of the People’s Party will be asked to lay out their party’s plan to address the influence the social media site has in Canada. Only candidates representing parties with current representation in the House of Commons were invited, Friends executive director Daniel Bernhard said.

While the topic may seem narrow, Bernhard said the Facebook question leads to many other policy issues.

“I think Facebook, to some degree, is a proxy for all the big tech platforms, but it stands out because it's become a major source of news,” he said.

“An informed citizenry is a fundamental requirement of a functioning democracy, and when more and more people are getting their news from a source that has no legal obligation to tell the truth – that has been implicated in spreading misinformation, hate speech, all other manner of problems – the impact and the implications for our democracy and for our peaceful way of life are pretty severe.”

Public discourse is becoming increasingly concentrated on Facebook and, Bernhard said, that could have dire consequences for Canada’s democracy.

“If the public sphere moves onto Facebook exclusively, crowding out qualified professional journalists, can our democracy survive?” he asked.

Bernhard said he expects the moderator, National Observer editor Linda Solomon Wood, to press the candidates on their party’s plan to regulate social media sites and ensure Canadians continue to have access to trustworthy information online.

A second debate for Burnaby South candidates is scheduled for Feb. 11.