The Online Harms Act doesn’t go far enough to protect democracy in Canada

The rapid proliferation of digital platforms and social media has transformed the landscape of public discourse in Canada. While these technologies have undoubtedly facilitated communication and connectivity, they have also become breeding grounds for misinformation, hate speech, and online harms that pose significant threats to democracy. In response to these challenges, the Canadian government introduced the Online Harms Act. However, despite its intentions, the Act falls short of adequately safeguarding democracy. This essay contends that the Online Harms Act must be strengthened to effectively protect democracy in Canada.

The Need for Stronger Regulation

Canada, like many other democracies, faces a crisis of disinformation and online manipulation. The spread of false information, particularly during elections, undermines the integrity of the democratic process and erodes public trust in institutions. Moreover, the proliferation of hate speech and extremist content online exacerbates social divisions and threatens social cohesion. In light of these challenges, regulatory measures are imperative to mitigate the harmful effects of online platforms on democracy.

The Online Harms Act: Strengths and Limitations

The Online Harms Act represents a step in the right direction by recognizing the need for regulatory intervention in the digital sphere. It seeks to hold online platforms accountable for harmful content and activities hosted on their platforms, imposing fines and penalties for non-compliance. Additionally, the Act mandates transparency and reporting requirements to ensure accountability.

However, the Online Harms Act has several limitations that hinder its effectiveness in protecting democracy. Firstly, its scope is limited primarily to content moderation, neglecting other crucial aspects such as algorithmic transparency and data privacy. Algorithms used by social media platforms play a significant role in shaping users’ online experiences and influencing their perceptions. Without transparency and oversight of these algorithms, platforms can amplify harmful content and polarize public discourse, thereby undermining democracy.

Secondly, the enforcement mechanisms outlined in the Online Harms Act are inadequate. While the imposition of fines may incentivize platforms to take action against harmful content, it does not address the root causes of online harms. Moreover, the Act lacks provisions for meaningful oversight and independent regulation, relying heavily on self-regulation by platforms. This approach risks prioritizing corporate interests over public welfare and may result in insufficient protection for democracy.

Thirdly, the Online Harms Act fails to address the issue of foreign interference in Canadian elections adequately. With the increasing prevalence of state-sponsored disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks, there is a pressing need for legislation that safeguards electoral processes from external threats. The Act should include provisions for enhancing cybersecurity measures and combating foreign influence operations to uphold the integrity of elections.

Strengthening the Online Harms Act

To effectively protect democracy in Canada, the Online Harms Act must be strengthened in several key areas. Firstly, the scope of the Act should be expanded to encompass algorithmic transparency and data privacy. Platforms should be required to disclose information about their algorithms’ functioning and the data they collect from users to enable independent scrutiny and accountability.

Secondly, enforcement mechanisms should be bolstered through the establishment of an independent regulatory body tasked with overseeing compliance with the Act. This body should have the authority to investigate complaints, impose sanctions on non-compliant platforms, and ensure transparency in the regulatory process. Additionally, platforms should be held accountable for implementing effective measures to prevent the spread of harmful content and mitigate its impact on users.

Thirdly, the Online Harms Act should include provisions specifically targeting foreign interference in Canadian elections. This could involve enhancing collaboration between government agencies, intelligence services, and social media platforms to detect and counter disinformation campaigns effectively. Furthermore, measures should be implemented to strengthen the cybersecurity of electoral infrastructure and protect against cyberattacks.


The Online Harms Act represents an important initiative to address the challenges posed by online harms to democracy in Canada. However, its current provisions are insufficient to effectively protect democracy in the digital age. Strengthening the Act by expanding its scope, enhancing enforcement mechanisms, and addressing the issue of foreign interference is essential to safeguarding the integrity of the democratic process and preserving public trust in institutions. Only through robust regulatory measures can Canada mitigate the harmful effects of online platforms and ensure a vibrant and resilient democracy for future generations.

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