Drew Wilson discusses the awful messaging Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 is sending to developing industries.
Ask anyone who has ever started up a YouTube channel as a serious endeavour or a website as a possible way to net a second income the resistance they faced. Invariably, a common theme will start cropping up: people thinking that they are crazy or being told that it will never pan out. In some cases, outright dismissal where people just roll their eyes and say, “uh, sure, OK.”
Of course, a major problem is that technology moves at lightening speed. It outpaces government and the human psyche. While the government struggling to keep pace is nothing new, the human psyche is a bit of a funky thing to talk about. After all, our ability to keep up with technology depends on who you are talking about. On one side of the spectrum, you have those on the bleeding edge, experimenting with things that 90% of the population hasn’t even heard of. On the other end of the spectrum, you have those who still own a VCR that has continuously flashed “12:00” for decades. Everyone is different, so trying to figure out the impact on people was always going to wind up being a complex thing that may or may not be accurate.
A lot of friction comes when people see the opportunities before them, but the people around them do not. Indeed, the gaming community is a fantastic example of this. Decades ago, people were interested in gaming, but while skills improved over time with various gamers, the pushback was always that no one is ever going to make money playing video games. Fast forward to today and you have things like streaming, professional eSports, and even fundraisers like Awesome Games Done Quick that are pulling in millions. Not only is it possible to generate revenue from playing video games, but it is also possible to generate millionaires in the process.
Yet, even today, there are no shortage of people who would look at all of this and say that nothing about this is sustainable. There are those who still feel that no one is making money playing video games. They then further make conclusions that gaming is just for kids and that playing video games is a waste of time. To this day, there is still a lot of stigma around video games – most of which are unjustified (i.e. the false assumption that video games are turning people into phsycho killers being the famous example of this).
Streaming and vlogging is another example of this. There is no shortage of stigma that anyone who tries their hand at streaming or posting video’s online are just crazy self-absorbed narcissists – that all they do is just fire up the camera every day and just blab away randomly or just make stupid dances.
Yet, the truth in the matter is that many of these creators spend weeks planning out their videos, understanding what people are in to, figuring out what will click, analyzing data analytics, using professional gear and professional shooting techniques, and, of course, spending hours afterwards in post editing, nailing the pacing, putting in music, utilizing catalogues of B-Roll, and more. This almost never gets talked about when discussing what video content creators do all day. It involves a lot of planning and strategy (ratio varies between creators of course).
Even with my seemingly crude methods for my YouTube channel, there is actually a lot of work that goes in to just producing those video’s. Critically, there is the budgeting that goes in to acquiring these games (none of that comes from the advertising here, I had to get really creative with my finances – don’t worry, it’s all legal – to pull all of this off). Then, there is the stack of paper I have which maintains lists of games I already have and games I’m still actively looking for (something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the stores I shop at), and carefully selecting games based on known availability rates at the store.
After that, it is then blocking out times to allow consoles to download and install updates, testing to ensure that the recording software is able to record this stuff (this is not always a smooth process), scripting out the intro’s (easiest part), considering possible themes I could hit while making casual observations of the game, then recording the video afterwards. There’s also the post work of inserting metadata and a whole lot more while publishing afterwards.
This is far removed from simply firing up some capture software, hitting record, then hitting upload. Despite all of this, my methods are comparatively crude to the much more sophisticated operations out there. I don’t have sponsorship deals nor do I even have video editing software to make the video’s look more polished. Heck, I don’t even have a rig appropriate for video editing in the first place. Yet, at the same time, I go through all of the above to make the YouTube channel seem like a fairly seamless and easy operation afterwards. Trust me when I say I do have personal experience on this front.
Then there is writing news. This is something I’ve personally been doing since 2005. To this day, I still have a number of people give me a blank stare when I tell them I am into online journalism. For these people, I might as well have spoken Greek to them when I told them what I do. Basic explanations sometimes make matters worse rather than better.
Perhaps the worst part is the fact that online journalism, when done well as is the case here, translates well into a career working for more traditional outlets such as a news broadcaster or even the dead tree newspaper profession. Yet, I’ve personally been repeatedly told that my work is not valid. In fact, when I was explaining the kind of stuff I cover (namely trends and developments on the internet and its intersection with government, regulation, and the legal system), the editor, point blank, told me to “come back when you write real news”. It’s been my experience that more than 15 years of journalism experience “does not count” in the industry for bald or grey haired types running the show.
Yet, whether it is video games, vlogging, streaming, or writing news, the funny thing is that validation from close contacts or industry types isn’t really that necessary. As time goes on, that necessity diminishes. One thing that has struck me since my time working at Slyck is the fact that when you work online, you aren’t necessarily expected to provide a resume and list your credentials. You just go straight out to the front lines and find out if you have the chops to make good content. As it turned out, I had the chops in spades as my articles routinely made it to prominent places on social news websites and even netted me interviews with radio programs around the world – not to mention the many prominent people and organizations I was able to interview.
Ultimately, us internet types decided to just plug away at our passions. Some would get lucky and turned it into full time careers. Others, like myself, are able to just continue plugging away and enjoy the fact that, by night, we have what they consider one of the coolest gigs you could ask for.
For years, the community of online creators were able to more or less stick to our lane and keep creating content. Traditional media outlets often bad mouthed us, but you know what? We are doing fine. It is unlikely that the media will recognize your efforts. You aren’t winning awards for your work even if you are producing the best content in the world. Let the social elite get their participation trophies at things like the Oscars, let the media praise someone for being “innovative” for starting up a restaurant or selling T-Shirts. We all know we are doing great work in our own right. We’ll do our thing and we’ll be happy about it.
Indeed, this has worked out great for us. Online creators saw their audiences grow. More and more people turned to us for better information and to be better entertained. Online creators kept finding way of better serving audiences than traditional media outlets.
To a degree, though, us online creators may have become a victim of our own success. Audiences for traditional radio and television kept drying up. Newspaper subscriptions vanished. Traditional media executives were furious at the development. They knew that the blame lies squarely on that infernal newfangled technology called “the internet”. Probably what upsets them the most is the fact that, in their minds, the internet would just fade away like any other fad like Pog or the Tickle Me Elmo. They would never admit they were wrong, but they are sure mad that they were wrong.
So, when Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 came along, it had become clear that traditional media has declared war on the internet. Though they try and stick to the talking point that this is only aimed at “Big Tech” (which has taken on some baggage over the years), the ultimate truth is that, underneath the talking points and misleading statements, the bills are more about declaring war on the internet. Television, radio, and newspapers have come to the internet. They want their captive audiences back. Whether they get those audiences wilfully or by force was the internet’s call, but one thing or another, they were going to take things back to the 80’s when their mediums reigned supreme.
For online creators, these new attacks were unexpected. They were happily plugging away with their careers and becoming quite prosperous as a result. Life really couldn’t be better. Now, you have these television and newspaper executives showing up and demanding that your career be shut down. While the attacks aren’t necessarily new, what is new is that the government was in tow to enforce these ultimatums.
Some, with a great deal of confusion, awkwardly put their hands in the air. They spent their entire lives figuring out video production and online trends. They don’t know a thing about politics, messaging, or lobbying. What they know are things like speedrunning, commercial products, travelling, comedy, and slice of life content. Nothing could have prepared them for the metaphorical balding guy chewing a cigar and pointing a regulatory gun at their heads as their henchmen start finding ways of dismantling everything they worked for.
As dramatic as that sounds, that is exactly the kinds of feelings that are being invoked thanks to Bill C-11 and Bill C-18. With the Bill C-11 hearings at the House of Commons, digital first creators were seemingly the first to get interrogated. They bargained and pleaded their cases. They explained that all they were doing is just producing video content, making a living, paying taxes, and benefiting society. Yet, the government interrogators screamed back at them where they were hiding the ad revenue and audiences. There was nothing that the digital first creators could say or do at that point.
Little did the digital first creators know is that while that was happening, online journalists were sitting in cells just outside of the interrogation room. The journalists could hear the screaming from the interrogation rooms. We know what the video creators were saying and why and we know that the government interrogators were never going to listen. We are sitting here knowing that the government coming in and ordering all the proverbial cameras to be shut down and getting dragged away in handcuffs had to have been what those video producers experienced earlier.
We are looking at each other through the bars, faces white, trying to decipher what is going on and trying to figure out what the heck is in store for us. The gaslighting messages, the attacks and charges, the demonization of being invalid and more. All those attitudes of being dismissed as just a fad were coming back with a vengeance. Not only are we being considered invalid by the powers that be, but the determination was made that we have become a threat that needs to be stopped as well.
Eventually, the shouting in the government interrogation room dies down. Us journalists could hear the weeping. The mystery of what happened wouldn’t remain a mystery for long. We hear movement outside and discover that a regulatory firing squad was being prepared. We then hear the government interrogators announce that by order of the lobbyists and the government, that the online video careers are to be executed under the law of Section 4.2. By now, some of us journalists outside have curled up into balls of stress while others were beginning to freak out.
The government interrogator continued that the only way to reverse this is for the Senate to make a phone call to order the halting of the career executions. That phone call did come with the amendment, but after the government interrogators hang up the phone, one could be heard saying that the phone call only bought a little extra time, but they will convince them to rescind that phone call.
While it sounds like a moment of reprieve for everyone involved, it seems that the moment of reprieve wouldn’t last long. The government interrogators suddenly show up in the cell blocks, looks around and pulls off the Bill C-11 black gloves. After that, he pulls out another pair of gloves and says, “alright, looks like you guys are next.” As he puts on the new pair of black gloves, we all see them read “Bill C-18”.
The above scenario is obviously exaggerated with the imagery, but it does offer a glimpse as to the feelings some of us are having at this point. We are all scared about the impending bills and what it means for our respective careers. As time goes on, it feels like the situation is increasingly hopeless as the government is angrily determined to ensure that these bills will become law and that our days are numbered.
Throughout my conversations with others on these issues, some have pointed out that we can all just use VPNs, proxies, and other tools. While the end user can easily utilize such tools once these internet crackdowns become enforced, that is a much taller order for the small businesses that are created. It’s a much taller order to convince a third party sponsor to sponsor a video you made when you explain to them that you are using various anonymous techniques to hide your footprints so you can better evade the government censors. It almost implies that you are doing something illegal regardless of the reasons.
As the government continues to reject the Section 4.2 fix, it has become increasingly clear that the government not only doesn’t see the validity of these budding careers, but is actively working on laws to ensure that they can never become profitable ever again. After all, but rejecting the Section 4.2 fix, it makes the true intent of Bill C-11 beyond dispute – a bill made to regulate user generated content. No amount of gaslighting, misleading statements, or badly crafted “infographics” are going to say otherwise. All of this despite the endless bargaining or reasoning to try and dissuade the governments mission.
While some try to tell the tale of evil platforms like Google and Facebook being the real targets here, the truth has been and always will be that neither platform would be anywhere without users. By curtailing the wishes of the users and actively stunting online innovative business models, the government is, in truth, rejecting the future.
Without a doubt, the audiences have increasingly moved to the internet. No one is really disputing that. Having these bold innovative startups on the internet is critical for Canada to be competitive on the global stage. As the internet is increasingly used in our daily lives, it is without dispute that the future continues to be on the internet.
Yet, with Bill C-11 and Bill C-18, the Canadian government has seen the future and screamed a resounding “no!” They go so far as to use decades old laws and apply it to the internet. They stunt the growth of online news sources by making it incredibly expensive to even link to each other. This while propping up legacy media and even some of the random radio stations out there. The most effective way the government knows to shut down a movement is to siphon off as much money and cut off as much cash flow to it as possible. Without a doubt, both bills do this well without explicitly shutting down revenue streams.
Without a doubt, the damage to the Canadian economy with all of this will be immense. As other countries move forward by offering tax incentives for their creatives, the Canadian government is going in exactly the opposite direction, declaring peoples careers invalid and making it as difficult as possible for innovation to flourish in Canada. As many no doubt note, Canada does have a significant brain drain problem where talent flees across the border to other countries that are willing to take them in. This while strangling what’s left to death within our own borders. These bills will only cause this problem to skyrocket.
While I have originally held out hope that maybe something will pull the Canadian government from the brink of disaster, that hope in recent weeks has been fading fast. My hope has turned towards the courts to put a stop to the madness. While nothing is a sure thing, it is currently the best and most likely shot Canadians can hope for in my view.
In the mean time, the best things Canadian’s can do is start innovating in other ways. How can Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups work around government intervention? Indeed, news links dying as a way of attracting an audience on Facebook and Google is going to hurt a lot, but what about other forms of content? How can Canadian video producers attract solely foreign audiences now that Canadian audiences are going to be effectively barred from viewing your own content? The reality is that Canadian creatives and creators are going to have to think about working around the government barriers. Those days are fast approaching and there is no time like the present than to visualize life post the passage of these insane laws.
The reason for this is that while the courts might be Canada’s best show at putting a stop to the regulatory madness, there is no guarantees in any of this. There may be a delay in getting that much needed injunction and, with that delay, you’ll have to make do with less. The times ahead are going to be tough, but with how things are progressing, we won’t have much choice in the matter. The only thing we can change is how we mitigate the damage brought on by the government. That, in my view, is the best thing that we can do. After all, if there is one thing the government has proven in recent years, it’s that the government is not your friend.