Bill C-11: Where is the Evidence That Says Canadians Are Being Suppressed on Social Media?

One of the underlying arguments for Bill C-11 is that Canadian voices are being suppressed on social media. Where’s the evidence of this?

Throughout the debates about Bill C-11, one of the core arguments has been that Canadians are struggling to get their voices heard and that they need government’s helping hand to ensure they have a viewership they are entitled to. This argument sometimes crops up in the media as some sort of unquestioned truth and just common knowledge fact. At the same time, politician’s pushing this legislation occasionally bandy this argument about like it’s some urgent problem that needs addressing yesterday. Of course, this is pushed most heavily by the lobbyists pushing this bill in the first place.

In almost any debate, evidence is critical to your argument. For instance, the climate change debate has had an overwhelming amount of evidence to say that change is happening. This has been scientifically shown time and time again. Whether it is through core samples from trees, samples from the arctic, measurable melting of permanent ice and frost in polar regions, long term temperature trends, and a whole lot more. As a result, there is not only improved government will to solve these problems as a result of this scientific research, but there is also the social credit to go along with it.

Similarly, cigarettes have been scientifically shown to cause multiple forms of cancer. There has been plenty of research to also show that nicotine is addictive. As a result of this clear evidence, society has transformed from viewing cigarettes as something to smoke to relax and cure ailments to a health hazard where it is in your best interest, for health reasons, to butt out. What’s more, government has heavily regulated cigarettes as a result. It’s safe to say that it is common knowledge that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health and there really isn’t any debate on this.

Yet, when you look at the Bill C-11 debate and the core argument that Canadian’s are having a hard time having their voices heard, where is the evidence? Is there a study showing that Canadians have been disproportionately negatively impacted by large platforms such as YouTube or TikTok? Not that I am aware of. Is there evidence to say that if a creator like myself would benefit from simply having a different geographical location? Not that I am aware of. Are viewers out there saying to a large volume of creators, “Gee, you seem to have great content, but you are Canadian and I just can’t keep viewing your content.” Not really.

Indeed, when you speak to YouTube and TikTok creators, this thought that them being Canadian is going to impair their ability to succeed almost never even enters the thought process. If anything, there are plenty of very different and reasonable concerns involved. This is basically if their content is going to be good enough for an audience or if the topic they choose to cover is going to be sufficiently interesting to a broader audience. There’s also concerns about what viewers are viewing and why (such as choosing a good thumbnail) or even rolling out a strategy to promote their content. Such concerns are not specifically Canadian, but thought process that are shared across a broad range of creators regardless of their country of origin.

In fact, the opinion of creators on this legislation is not hard to find. Here’s one compilation of reactions from Canadian creators:

Here’s another creator on this legislation:

So, the question then becomes, are Canadians actually finding audiences? This can be a bit of a tricky question to answer simply because there aren’t a whole lot of creators that are pounding their chest and punctuating their Canadianness to the world. If anything, more often then not, this kind of information is actually fairly tricky to find. There are, however, metrics that showcase how well Canadian’s are doing. One source of this data that is widely used is Social Blade. Indeed, it is possible to browse through creators based on their overall popularity.

In the top 100 creators that are Canadian, views are measured in the millions. Some are even measured in the billions. What’s more is that subscriptions are measured in the hundreds of thousands to millions (on a rare occasion, in the tens of thousands). I don’t know about you, but these are the kinds of statistics that can rival traditional TV broadcasters. This is not a bad thing. It is actually a very good thing that creators are finding their audiences in such spectacular fashion.

There’s plenty of other metrics available such as sorting by subscribers and seeing that the 100th most subscribed creator has 3.61 million subscribers (that would be Twi Shorts).

If anything, the evidence shows that the exact opposite of the talking points is true. Canadian’s are very much finding their audiences and it’s actually something that probably should be celebrated in the country.

So, how do people think that Canadian’s aren’t finding their audience? The best argument that we’ve been able to find on this front is that if one were to just browse to the home page of these platforms without an account, the chances of finding content on the home page that is inherently “Canadian” is quite low. The reason for this is simple: when a platform like YouTube doesn’t have any background knowledge on you, it generally defaults to general interest for the viewer. It can determine your language based on IP address and offer content in your language, but beyond that, there is very little to go on.

Of course, pointing to this issue is always going to be an inherently weak argument. YouTube and TikTok can’t read your mind and just predict what content you want to watch. Platforms need a bit more than that. That’s where searching for content comes into play. Just perform a search on what interests you and you can start to formulate your own tailored made experience of YouTube. If you want to delve heavily into Poker video’s, that is there. If you want to delve into Minecraft video’s, that is there to. What’s more is that if you want to search for Canadian content, you can perform those searches and view all the Canadian content you want until your hearts content.

This isn’t even rocket science here. Get an account (if you don’t already have one), search around, view video’s, like and dislike content, subscribe to channels, and the platform will behave accordingly. Platforms have operated like these for decades. Algorithms might change, but core concepts generally remain the same.

A similar argument I’ve heard is that services you pay for don’t have Canadian content. Whether it is Netflix or Spotify, Canadian content is just not visible. The Netflix has been easily debunked by what is a similar solution: use the freaking search bar. As for Spotify, you can also search for Canadian content. Heck, let’s look for my own podcast and… there it is! Again, not rocket science.

Beyond that, the defences that bolster this argument that Canadians have been unable to have a voice has been strictly within the realms of hearsay or just wild speculation.

So, with the evidence pointing to Canadian’s thriving in the current market, no evidence that says that they are facing problems finding their audience, and demonstrable ways to actually finding Canadian content, why are we even having this debate in the first place? It’s no surprise that many who know a reasonable amount of the debate have long concluded that Bill C-11 is, at best, a solution looking for a problem.

Indeed, lobbying and propaganda masquerading as news are almost all sourced from traditional corporations in the culture sector such as television or radio. For us, this is ultimately a clue as to what the real changes being sought are.

It is definitely probable that when supporters are saying that Canadian’s are having a hard time breaking into the market, they aren’t actually referring to actual independent creators. What they are really talking about is that their content isn’t reaching audiences online to their satisfaction. Supporting this argument are comments by these traditional lobby groups saying that organizations like radio and broadcasters are struggling to make ends meet under the current environment. So, it is less about how anyone in Canada that is producing content on a platform is struggling to find an audience. Instead, it is traditional corporations operating in Canada complaining that they are unable to find the audiences they desire.

The obvious solution to this is to simply produce content that audiences would be interested in watching. After all, traditional broadcasters have equal access to the very tools that independent creators have. What’s more, these traditional corporations also have the financial backing and resources to simply outperform the independent creators handily. Yet, it’s the independent creators that have been able to run circles around these traditional production companies and broadcasters. So, the obvious solution is to learn from the best and adapt the content to be more palatable to audiences on platforms like TikTok and YouTubers. Unfortunately, that is not the approach being employed here.

At this point, there is no real other logical conclusion to draw from other than that traditional corporate interests are actually after the ability to have their content permanently promoted on the platforms. Want to look for instructional video’s on Blender? Sorry, but you really want to look at this report from Global News on tax season. Trying to check out speed runs on that retro console game? No dice, but you should really see this CBC investigation into fraud in the moving industry. If this sounds like an extreme interpretation of the situation, it really isn’t given the amount of supporting evidence there is.

A huge piece of evidence that lends support to this is found in the legislation itself. Provisions within the bill tell platforms that they need to modify their algorithms to support the results the government is demanding. This is not only not a radical opinion of the legislation, but a view that is supported by CRTC Chair, Ian Scott – head of the very regulator that would be tasked with enforcing this legislation. So, if we are having a conversation about manipulating algorithms, to what end are we manipulating those algorithms?

We know for a fact that Bill C-11 does regulate user generated content. Again, this was confirmed by CRTC Chair, Ian Scott. So, there is no debate that the legislation will manipulate algorithms and that it will regulate user generated content.

What we’ve also established is that the most vocal supporters are also the same supporters who are complaining that they are unable to find audiences in this digital age. They are ultimately the ones driving the legislative process. So, who’s content do you think are going to be pushed at the end of the day?

Further, the CRTC has regulations on what qualifies as Canadian content and what doesn’t. As we examined earlier on, our content does not qualify under the rules as they currently stand. In fact, most independent creators would not even come close to qualifying for these specific regulations should those regulations simply be foisted onto the Internet at large.

Of course, there is a simple fix to alley fears that government going to be mass censoring digital first creators. The government can release its guidelines as to how it expects the CRTC to follow through and enforce Bill C-11. Such guidelines can go into detail about what constitutes Canadian content on the various platforms and how the changes they are expecting won’t affect current creators already on those platforms. Further, those guidelines can specify what constitutes “commercial” content and what does not – a factor in determining what content can be regulated and what content won’t.

The problem is that the government has chosen not to release these guidelines. Instead, it has been a closely guarded secret seemingly on par with national security. In the absence of these guidelines, speculation as to the motive is all Canadians have. The easiest of these conclusions to draw is that the government knows that the envisioned guidelines will, at best, not support their case that Bill C-11 is needed and that a wide section of the Canadian public would support the governments vision for a more heavily regulated Internet.

Of course, motivation wouldn’t be exclusive to being on the receiving end of a political storm. The motivation could also very easily be financial. Litigation is an expensive and messy affair. If regulations are destined to suppress the content Canadian digital first creators produce, this very easily opens up the constitutional question of whether or not this legislation (and supporting guidelines) violates free speech. From a strategic perspective, the last thing you want to do is open yourself up to even more liability.

Ultimately, the most logical conclusion one can draw is that traditional producers and corporations know their content can’t compete in a free and open market. As a result, they want a permanent competitive advantage on these platforms because such an advantage would be financially very lucrative. This would be bolstered by the government seeking the protectionist measures to ensure that content produced by these players is forced to succeed, whether viewers like that content or not.

From the lobbying to the approach the government took to the reactions the government has had to public feedback to the wording of the legislation, this scenario best explains the motives and behaviour of everyone involved. It explains why traditional corporations pushed so hard for this, why the government have been averse to any kind of study or feedback from those natively succeeding on these platforms, why user generated content is so widely and broadly captured in the legislation, the secrecy and the push to keep debate to a minimum.

Ultimately, the claim that Canadian users are struggling and need a helping hand from the government to get the evil mean spirited platforms in line just doesn’t withstand scrutiny. At best, the evidence supporting this perspective is wafer thin. Really, as far as we can tell, it’s non-existent altogether. When searching for evidence to prove or disprove this theory, the exact opposite winds up holding up as true. Can you find Canadian creators? Yes. Can you show Canadian creators are succeeding? Yes. Do digital first creators, the very people who will be impacted by the bill, support the bill? The overwhelming majority do not.

Really, that should tell you everything you need to know about what ultimately boils down to a conspiracy theory that Canadian’s don’t have a voice today on the Internet. If supporters want to advance this theory, the least they could do is showcase exactly how platforms are somehow discriminating against Canadian creators and show that Bill C-11 would solve this problem. That has, to the best of our knowledge, not happened. Until a compelling case can be made to support this, the only conclusion is that this is just a conspiracy theory that falls apart on even the most basic levels of scrutiny.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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