Bill C-11 Will Kill Online Careers Before They Even Start

Michael Geist posted about this aspect of C-11. We’ll look into the more nitty gritty aspects of it.

There was a time when the idea of having an online career was considered laughable. Make money on the Internet? Yeah right. While money has been flowing through the Internet for decades, the very idea of making a decent living off of it was routinely seen as a punchline to a joke. Fast forward several years later and you hear about all sorts of careers that have been spun from the Internet. You have people developing “apps” for a living, speedrunners always testing the limits of what games can do, and the whole influencer sphere of the Internet.

Not only have people made careers out of the Internet, but some have even become multi-millionaires in the process. Probably the bigger problem these days is the separation between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s” with so much money focused on the hugely successful. Another problem is the increased focus on mainstream content from traditional broadcasters and legacy corporations taking a chunk off of attention that would otherwise be directed at the digital first community.

Indeed, there is a small, typically older contingent in society that still thinks its a joke that one can make a living off of the Internet, but this sort of thinking has been relegated to those who simply do not understand how the Internet works these days.

For Canadian’s, however, they have a huge new threat on their hands: Bill C-11. As we earlier discussed, a big threat is how it impacts discoverability of content. The bill doesn’t explicitly demand how algorithms operate, but it does demand how the results should be. Anyone who has had any experience on various platforms know that changes to search algorithms and promoted material can have a huge impact on how well their content performs on a platform. It’s bad enough when significant changes happen by the likes of Google, but it’s downright terrifying when the government is intervening like they have said they would.

Simply put, the more you know how some of these algorithms affect the performance of your content, the scarier this bill becomes. Sometimes, changing the thumbnail of your video can make a difference in your video’s performance. Sometimes, making a slight tweak to the title can greatly affect your video’s performance. Naturally, it’s not an exact science. Frequently, these tiny changes is just straight up trial and error to find out what works and what doesn’t.

For the young budding YouTuber, for instance, there are key thresholds to overcome. This comes in the form of number of hours watched and the number of subscribers you have on your channel. Meeting those thresholds means you can become eligible to become a “partner” with Google. What this means is that you will then be able to take out advertising on your YouTube video’s. Some choose to do so while some opt for alternative ways of earning an income on their YouTube channel. Either way, those thresholds are key critical first steps to “making it” as a YouTube creator.

Recently, Michael Geist did a write-up on the vague “discoverability” requirements. He does a great job of offering the broad strokes of the negative impacts of the legislation:

Simply put, the algorithmic choices on services such as Youtube and TikTok are based on numerous data points. For example, for each page featuring a dozen possible videos to click on, Youtube will record not only which video is viewed, but which are not. The more a video is displayed but not watched, the stronger the signal that the content is not interesting to Youtube users. With Bill C-11 discoverability requirements, there will be an increase in the number of Canadian videos that are displayed to Canadian users. Given that these recommendations are based on regulations rather than user interest, they are very likely to achieve much lower click-through rates than most other content. Those videos will continue to be displayed in Canada given the CRTC regulations, but outside Canada they will get less exposure since the algorithm will discern that the content is not of interest to most users.

This phenomenon occurs for all sorts of issues. For example, newspapers rank click-through rates on articles, taking notice not only of which articles get more clicks, but which do not. Those that get fewer clicks are deemed less interesting to subscribers and less likely to get future coverage. The same applies with respect to user generated content on platforms. The difference is that the CRTC will still require display of the content (much like the newspapers being required to run stories it knows are of little interest to subscribers), leading to a spiral of ever-increasing exposure in Canada and ever decreasing exposure everywhere else.

This could have a devastating impact on Canadian digital first creators, many of whom generate the majority of their revenues outside the country. If caught by the CRTC regulations, they run the risk of less global revenues with discoverability rules that ultimately create enormous harm. While the Rodriguez may have met with them, it doesn’t appear he listened or understood what they had to say. If he did, he would have addressed their concerns by removing elements of his bill that threaten to harm their careers.

Earlier, we reported on how political supporters of Bill C-11 were asked on how digital first creators would be compensated via the funding schemes set up by Bill C-11. The answer ended up being I don’t know. This is problematic on every level – first and foremost, it signals that the government hadn’t spoken to digital first creators to even get their take on the legislation. Given the bill’s framing, it’s not really surprising because the problems in the bill combined with anecdotes from creators spells out how the online community was not only not consulted, but completely ignored. Legacy corporations, on the other hand, seemed to have the ear of government.

When Bill C-10 was tabled, we offered a visualization on how it would completely ruin people’s livelihoods. Those concerns have largely carried over to this bill as well. One response to this latest bill is, to paraphrase, ‘Don’t worry, you’re cat video’s are safe.’ That retort only served to give further evidence that supporters of the legislation simply don’t have a clue about the realities of the Internet today.

To suggest that digital first creators are just people posting random cute cat video’s grossly misinterprets and completely misleads the public on what digital first creators do today. There are creators who spend their lives talking about various fashion trends, discussing medial issues, showcase musical techniques on various instruments, do what we do and discuss video games, examine geopolitical events and dynamics, various publicity stunts, have in-depth science discussions, and, well, discuss pretty much everything else under the sun. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is an ocean of content available today. You can still find cat video’s today, obviously, but to say creators are just posting cat video’s doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the bill’s supporters even know much about the Internet today.

The Canadian government trying to decide what is considered Canadian and what is not and order platforms to promote what it greenlights and bury what it doesn’t consider “Canadian enough” is only going to serve to divide the audience up. This is a nightmare scenario for creators – even established creators. The question becomes, “who do you tailor your content to?” Do you tailor your content to Canadian’s or to everyone else? What’s more is the very real fear that other governments are going to look at this legislation and say, “well, if they are promoting their own Canadians, then we need to do the same as well to keep up!” As a result, you have the potential effect of dividing up your audience based on which country they came from. This over top of the various language barriers that exist today.

So, instead of seeing that millions of users are seeing your video’s from all over the world, you are now inherently going to be after a much smaller audience pool. Because of that, you are going to see those YouTube video’s that get over 100 million views legitimately go by the wayside for the most part save for maybe China and India (who have the population to pull something like that off). This will have the inherent affect of seeing viewers drop by the millions. As a result, with fewer eyeballs, you have fewer people subscribing to funding platforms, purchasing from your shops, or seeing the ads you put on your video’s. Bigger players are simply going to suffer, there’s just no two ways about it.

The next obvious question, which is one hinted towards in the headline, is how will smaller players be able to handle this? Simply put, especially in Canada, they will see their content get buried based on not being “Canadian enough”. Because of this, it makes it harder to reach those all important thresholds we mentioned earlier just to have the ability to monetize their content. the effect is going to be similar on other platforms. What’s more, if they are hoping to utilize their inner circle of friends, families, and neighbours to get the word out, the problem is going to be that they are Canadian. So, those video’s and posts are going to face the new uphill battle of fighting for an increasingly small pool of spaces because those recommendations are going to get overruled by “Canadian content”.

In response, they will probably have to try and find ways of reaching out across to other countries to try and soak up as many eyeballs as possible. This is going to be a tall order. For instance, who do you think your average American is going to listen to more? Bill from Toronto, Canada, or Joe from San Diego California? Joe is going to have a bit of a home field advantage here. How much of an advantage is going to be debatable. What’s more is that Bill might have had the right resources and skill to make it big. The problem is that he is going to have that disadvantage of very likely not being “Canadian enough”.

On the flip side, what if the Canadian government does christen Bill as being “Canadian enough”? Chances are, what Bill produces is probably going to be about Canadian topics. Are American’s going to flock to Bill’s gaming channel because he talks about various Canadian Heritage Minutes? Probably not. Basically, this represents a “darned if you do, darned if you don’t” scenario. Either say goodbye to the wider Canadian audience or say goodbye to most of the global audience.

As a result of these detrimental impacts, a lot of potential online careers are going to get killed off before they even start. Canadian content requirements on a persons YouTube channel is going to be a major boat anchor to anyone who wants to make it big on a platform like Google. Other creators from other countries won’t have those requirements in place and will get the full benefits of the platform. Some careers snowball from humble beginnings, but if it takes too long to make it possible to make a career, many of those creators are going to conclude that this effort is not worth it.

The bottom line is that there is a reason why we say Bill C-11 is part of the Liberal’s war on the open Internet. This will greatly harm existing careers online and kill future careers before they even start. It’s difficult to overstate just how disastrous the legislation is going to be for anyone who wants to become the next big thing on a large platform. Digital first creators are going to want something that helps them, not hinder them. This bill will greatly hinder them and set Canadian digital innovation back by a lot. That will hurt Canada as a whole.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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