Another Talking Point Goes Down in Flames: CRTC Chair Confirms Bill C-11 Manipulates Algorithm Outcomes

Canadian government officials have long denied it, but the CRTC Chair has confirmed that Bill C-11 manipulates algorithm outcomes.

One of the big area’s of contention in Bill C-11 is whether or not it regulates user generated content. That debate pretty much ended back in May when CRTC Chair, Ian Scott, confirmed that the legislation does cover user generated content. While government officials have since continued to deny it, there really is no debate as to whether or not the legislation does it. The legislation does this. Any government official that continues to insist that it does not is simply trying to either flat out lie or mislead Canadians, thinking that Canadians are too stupid to follow what’s going on.

While that ended debate took a lot of attention, there is another area of contention that has been happening more or less on the sidelines. That area of debate is whether or not Bill C-11 manipulates social media algorithms. Specifically, does the legislation demand that various platforms manipulate the outcomes of their recommendations system? To be clear, the legislation does this. It doesn’t specifically allow the CRTC to demand that platforms use a specific platform, but rather, it demands a specific outcome of those algorithms.

Government officials have nonsensically said that the legislation doesn’t touch the algorithms in any way. Of course, that never made any sense because if the goal is to increase the visibility, how does one do this without making any changes to current recommendation algorithms? Well, we are learning today that the government talking point that Bill C-11 doesn’t manipulate algorithms in any way has basically gone down in flames.

Scott basically confirmed that this assessment is accurate. Michael Geist has posted video footage of the chair giving testimony that pretty much explains, word for word, that what critics have been saying on this front is accurate:

This is important because the CRTC is what would be overseeing the regulation of user generated content and platforms through Bill C-11. So, if the regulator charged with overseeing all of this agrees with the critics that the legislation does this, then the debate is pretty much over.

This admission isn’t exactly news to us. We’ve known that this legislation does this from the very beginning. You can read this in our analysis back in February reacting to one relevant section:

Exception to Algorithms

We next see the following:

Restriction — computer algorithm or source code
(8) The Commission shall not make an order under paragraph (1)‍(e) that would require the use of a specific computer algorithm or source code.

This is probably good news. In other words, the CRTC can’t tell, for instance, Google, to run a specific algorithm on its YouTube site. Now, whether or not they can tell Google to ensure certain kinds of content are prominent on the front page is a different matter entirely (as far as this section is concerned). In other words, the CRTC could say, “We can’t tell you what systems to put in place, but we want [x] content to appear anyway.” As far as this exception is concerned, that is actually on the table here.

So, really, all of these months later, we see the chair fully agreeing with what we found all the way back then. We aren’t exclusive in that finding, but we were one source to have said this from the very beginning.

Ultimately, there are now multiple critical debate points that are now over. It’s well established that Bill C-11 regulates user generated content. It is now well established that Bill C-11 also orders platforms to have specific outcomes of their recommendation algorithms. Again, a point that has basically concluded.

Because of this, the government is basically forced to retreat into even more precarious positions in the debate. After all, they are now running out of ways of defending this legislation – legislation that has become increasingly indefensible these days.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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