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Request to remove newspaper article among Ottawa's queries to social-media giants

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Newly released documents show that a federal government department asked Facebook and Twitter to delete a newspaper article that it felt contained errors -- but both social-media giants denied the request.

The request to remove social-media posts that linked to an unspecified Toronto Sun article came from a director of communications at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada on Sept. 27, 2021.

Documents say that Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada staff believed the article contained "serious errors of fact risking (and) undermining public confidence in the independence of the board as well as the integrity of the refugee determination system." The board did not respond to questions from The Canadian Press.

The social-media companies ultimately said that they were denying the request because the article wasn't their original content.

The Toronto Sun did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Documents tabled in Parliament detail 214 examples of Ottawa asking for social-media content to be removed between January 2020 and February 2023. Companies took down posts about half the time for reasons such as impersonation or copyright violations.

The government documents came in response to a written question from Conservative MP Dean Allison.

In another case, the Canada Revenue Agency requested that private messages be removed from Facebook Messenger after employees shared taxpayer information on the platform.

The agency said an administrator deleted the chat on June 7, 2022, but it was unclear whether Facebook deleted the messages from its servers.

"The CRA disciplined the employees involved, up to, and including, termination of employment," the documents say, and the affected taxpayers were notified and offered credit protection services. Employees were also retrained on unauthorized access and social media.

In a third case, Meta, which owns Facebook, granted a request by the government to delete an account that was impersonating former RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and sending people fake messages.

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn all complied with various requests that infringed on copyright or company policies.

However, social media companies often kept up posts that the government and its departments believed were offensive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2023.

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