B.C. introduces legislation to target social media firms for alleged harm

BC legislation to target social media firms for alleged harm. Image credit: Unsplash/Nik

A proposed legislation Bill 12-2024 has reportedly been introduced by the British Columbia government to recover health-related costs from alleged “wrongdoers,” including social media giants.

Introducing the bill Thursday, Attorney General Niki Sharma was reported saying that subject to its passing, the province will be facilitated to use the courts for recovery of health-related costs associated with the promotion and distribution of harmful products.

“Our government previously warned social media giants, tobacco, drug companies and other big faceless corporations…hold them accountable for the harm they are causing to people, including kids…My message is simple: Here in B.C., we expect you to operate in a way that doesn’t hurt people.” B.C. Premier David Eby reported saying.

The law would provide a way for the province to go after social media companies for the harm their algorithms cause people, especially kids, the government said in a statement.

Modelled on previous legislation, Sharma said the bill would allow the province to seek recovery of health-related tobacco and opioid damage costs.

Due to the pain involved with the spread of unwanted sexual images,  Sharma has said she hoped word of the program’s success will encourage other victims to step forward.

“It’s a very victim-driven process…so people know that there are results coming through this process, and that people should know that it’s available to them,” Sharma was reported saying last month.

New victim services resources would accompany this process by specifically dedicating to handle what’s expected to be a huge number of complaints.

“There’s a team of five that are directed just towards this because we wanted to be read…So you can go through the legal process…you have a team to support you because we’ve seen really tragic outcomes otherwise.” Sharma was reported saying last month.

She says the legislation would make companies accountable for hurting people and would allow the province to claim for hospital treatments and doctor appointments, and could even be proactive to prevent risk of disease, illness or injury.

“Once this new legislation passes, we will be able to sue more wrongdoers, as we’ve done successfully with tobacco and opioid companies, and keep more people in B.C. healthy and safe,” she said.

Tobacco-related illness was the leading cause of preventable death in B.C., at 6,000 people a year, a government report released in 2022 said, and it cost the health system $2.3 billion annually.

As the ninth province in Canada to draft and enact an Intimate Images Protection Act (IIPA), B.C, provides a path for victims to regain control of their private images and to hold perpetrators accountable.

“You can see that the government is really trying to create a deterrent effect for this type of behaviour,” Claire Feltrin, a data privacy and cybersecurity lawyer in Vancouver who helped advise the tribunal over how to adapt to the act and handle cases, had said.

An ongoing problem across the country, the invasion of privacy and dignity has caused the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to flag each year millions of cases of suspected child sexual abuse material on sites such as as Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok and Pinterest.

Sharma says in a statement that too many people in B.C. are living with negative health impacts from products they should be able to trust.