B.C. places online harms bill on hold after agreement with Meta, X, TikTok, Snapchat | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source
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B.C. places online harms bill on hold after agreement with Meta, X, TikTok, Snapchat

B.C. Premier David Eby speaks during an announcement in in Delta, B.C., on Monday, March 18, 2024. The British Columbia government is putting on hold the proposed legislation that would have allowed to province to take legal action against social media companies to recover health-related costs linked to online harm.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VICTORIA - British Columbia has placed its proposed online harms legislation on hold after reaching an agreement with social media companies to "sit down in good faith" to find solutions on keeping people safer online.

Premier David Eby said the proposed legislation remains, and the province will reactivate it into law if necessary.

"The agreement that we've struck with these companies is that we're going to move quickly and effectively, and that we need meaningful results before the end of the term of this government, so that if it's necessary for us to bring the bill back then we will," Eby said Tuesday, after making an announcement on a milk production plant in Abbotsford, B.C.

His comments came after a joint statement was released from the premier and the firms Meta, TikTok, X and Snap that says they will form an online safety action table, where they'll discuss "tangible steps" toward protecting people from online harms.

"Our hope is that we're able to reach meaningful resolutions of a number of concerns we have about the interactions of kids with these apps in a co-operative way around the table, ensuring British Columbian kids are protected," Eby said. "And that is what those companies are saying they want to do with us."

The announcement to put the bill on hold is a sharp turn for Eby's government, after the premier announced in March that social media companies were among the "wrongdoers" that would pay for health-related costs linked to their platforms in the proposed legislation.

At the time, Eby compared social media harms to those caused by tobacco and opioids, saying the legislation was similar to previous laws that allowed the province to sue companies selling those products.

Eby said during the announcement of the original legislation that one of the key drivers for a bill targeting online harm was the death of Carson Cleland, the 12-year-old Prince George, B.C., boy who died by suicide last October after falling victim to online sextortion.

"In the real world we would never allow a company to set up a space for kids where grown adults could be invited in to contact them, encourage them to share photographs and then threaten to distribute those photographs to their family and friends," Eby said when announcing the legislation.

The premier said previously that companies would be shut down and their owners would face jail terms if their products were connected to harms to young people.

Eby said on Tuesday that Meta reached out to the province, and the discussions resulted in "assurance from Facebook" to also work with B.C. emergency officials to deliver and amplify public information in case of natural disasters such as wildfires.

"I think it's fair to say that I was very skeptical, following the initial contact," Eby said. "And one of the things we asked for was, look, we need to have assurance that if we're going to sit down together, that this is a meaningful exchange, that there will be real changes on the ground, that British Columbians can feel my commitment to the Clelands."

BC United Opposition Leader Kevin Falcon said in a statement that his party pushed Eby's government to change course, noting the legislation's vague language on who the province can sue "would have had severe unintended consequences" for local businesses and the economy.

"The government’s latest retreat is not only a win for the business community but for every British Columbian who values fairness and clarity in the law," Falcon said.

The Greater Vancouver Board of Trade said they are pleased to see the legislation put on hold, given the "potential ramifications" of the proposal's "expansive interpretation."

"We hope that the government chooses not to pursue Bill 12 in the future," said board president and CEO Bridgitte Anderson in a statement. "Instead, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the government to develop measures that are well-targeted and effective, ensuring they protect British Columbians without causing unintended consequences."

Eby said pausing the online harms bill is part of the agreement with the social media firms.

"They also understand the bill's still there, I can come forward if necessary," he said. "Our hope is that we can make changes that are going to make a difference right now for kids and for families."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2024.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2024
The Canadian Press

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