Globe & Mail Publishes Conspiracy Theories, Falsely Suggests Bill C-11 Will Save French Culture

Mainstream media continues to pump out misinformation about Bill C-11. This time, they are claiming Bill C-11 will save French culture.

One of the biggest sources of misinformation about Bill C-11 and Bill C-18 has been from the mainstream media. In fact, it was only last week that we debunked the claims of one source claiming that online news sources are “questionable”. Last year, we also debunked conspiracy theories published by the Toronto Star about how then-called Bill C-10 would force platforms to pay their “fair share”.

Of course, mainstream media isn’t exactly planning on letting up with efforts to mislead the Canadian public about some of the Canadian governments dangerous bills. The latest example where the mainstream media is pushing misinformation comes from the Globe & Mail. The article is entitled “Bill C-11′s bid to boost Cancon draws francophone fans”, though the slug title suggests that at one point, the headline also described Bill C-11 as “Controversial”, but at some point, that word was deleted.

The article makes an attempt to revive the French culture conspiracy theories surrounding Bill C-11. The general conspiracy theory is that “Big Tech” is somehow destroying Quebec culture and if something isn’t done about it, then Quebec culture will disappear within months. Obviously, there is absolutely nothing true about this conspiracy, but some lobbyists have been pushing this conspiracy hard anyway.

The article opens with someone’s son not memorizing stats from the Montreal Canadiens. Instead, the 12 year old is watching Napolean War recaps and contemporary music inspired by the 1930’s.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with that. As someone who grew up in BC, I personally didn’t find myself spending my days memorizing the stats from the Vancouver Canucks and, instead, listened to music from Switzerland, Egypt, Germany, France, and the Netherlands among other things. This while talking about terrible laws from the United States, Australia, and the UK. Simply put, welcome to the global village. We all have choice on what to consume and how to interact with what we get exposed to.

However, the article then slips into moral panic by offering this up next:

The digital era has been a golden age for the quirky and particular. Except when it comes to language. Linguistically, the internet is a zone of deadening homogeneity. By some estimates, English makes up more than 60 per cent of the internet’s content.

In terms of homogeneity, nothing can be further from the truth. Diversity has never been greater with many francophone stars making a name for themselves. This was nicely highlighted during hearing 7 by Scott Benzie of Digital First Canada. The official transcript mentions Emma Verde, marty Ba, Lysandre Nadeau, Jessie Poo, Rosalie Lessard, Pierre-Luc Cloutier, Emma Bass, Émile Roy, Polo and Fred Bastien as Quebec digital first creators who get their primary audience from the province of Quebec.

Indeed, there is plenty of francophone stars if you seek them out today. This along with the large amounts of French content that is produced on a regular basis. One French star I ended up watching on a regular basis for years was Remi Gaillard which includes the Kangaroo video with a bilingual, though mostly French song playing and an English disclaimer at most, the Tour de France video, Fiesta, and a whole pile of other video’s. I enjoyed watching those video’s when they came out. This is coming from someone who can barely understand a couple of words in French.

As for the 60% statistic this is perhaps the product of there simply being more English speaking countries that are highly connected to the Internet. The problem with it is, assuming it is accurate, it offers the smallest possible glimpse into the Internet possible, rather than a full picture. Let’s assume that, on YouTube, there are 800 million video’s. This is not an unreasonable number. That mathematically works out to 480 million English speaking video’s. It also works out to 320 million video’s that are non-English which is by no means a small number. Even if you divide further the number of every other language, that is still more than enough to develop a culture. In fact, some YouTubers out there make videos about other great French speaking video’s. Others write articles about what they find is the top 100 Quebec YouTubers out there.

The thing people tend to forget is just how absolutely massive the internet is. I know a lot about the Internet and I can tell you even I can’t really fully grasp just how huge the internet truly is. There are still loads of the internet that I admit I am fully in the dark about and I explore the internet a lot. Because of the size, the percentage statistic borders on meaningless.

The thing is, the internet gives users the choice. If someone in Quebec wants to view anglophone video’s, then that user has that choice. If the user wants to watch francophone video’s, all power to them. Nothing is really stopping anyone any more. At most, the classic language barrier is the only thing slowing the process down and translated subtitles is helping to overcome that language barrier.

Unfortunately, all of this gets ignored in the article which engages in hand-wringing about the situation:

Perhaps no other society is more preoccupied by this fact than Quebec. The province’s francophones have spent 250 years as a tiny French-speaking island surrounded by a sea of anglophones, losing demographic ground all the while. Now, that sea has opened onto a virtual ocean, as American economic might and the first-mover advantage of Silicon Valley have turned English into a global lingua franca.

This paragraph is pretty much made up for the most part. It utilizes the language demographic of Canada and tries to transpose this onto the Internet. It also falsely assumes that the US controls everything about the internet. The only advantage is that the US has a large population, but this utterly fails to incorporate the rest of the planet being part of the Internet as well. This is basically cherry picking statistics to try and pretend that you have factual grounding in your moral panic article when non actually exists.

Let’s throw all the evidence out the window for a second and assume that there is a problem with a lack of francophone content (there isn’t, but we are humouring this article’s false picture of the internet for a moment). If that is, indeed, the problem, then the solution is quite obvious: produce more francophone and Quebec francophone content. Give YouTuber’s, TikToker’s, and other online creators financial backing so they can produce high quality content that French speaking viewers would find interesting. Obviously, this is not what Bill C-11 does as it only gives money to the already wealthy establishment, propping up legacy corporations whose audiences are already leaving them. So, the only logical conclusion is that Bill C-11 solves nothing here.

The article then quotes professor Warren who bemoans the situation and essentially says that Quebec is facing a weakening cohesion thanks to French being chipped away in the province. Obviously, that is not an internet problem, but facts mean very little to this article at this point anyway.

The article then says this:

There is no silver bullet available in Quebec’s eternal battle to preserve itself as a francophone society. But one weapon the province’s intelligentsia hopes to use is Bill C-11.

The federal legislation currently making its way through the Senate would require big digital platforms like Netflix and Spotify to make Canadian productions easier to access on their sites.

The bill has been controversial in the rest of Canada, where critics have raised concerns about C-11’s implications for free speech, because the law would submit online media to regulation by bureaucrats at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

At this point, we have invented a fake problem and the first paragraph offers Bill C-11 as a solution to this fake problem. As we already pointed out, Bill C-11 solves nothing. It only creates problems.

The second paragraph makes a rather bizarre logical leap because it argues that Bill C-11 promotes Canadian content and that is somehow a solution to the francophone problem. Only a few paragraphs up and the article was bemoaning the idea that Quebec is a tiny island in a sea of anglophone speakers, yet here we are trying to promote the anglophone content by extension. It’s like the article can’t make up its own mind in determining whether promotion of anglophone Canadian content is good or not.

The third paragraph is probably the first paragraph that is even remotely accurate. It is controversial because of the implications of free speech. Some of those issues have been fixed, but it still leaves open the problem of favouring legacy media over new media production efforts among other things. This raises free speech concerns because the government is picking and choosing which speech should be supported or not.

Then we get to this:

In Quebec, there has been no controversy. Support for the bill is “practically unanimous,” said Monique Simard, a long-time power player in the province’s cultural industries, including a stint as head of the National Film Board’s French service. She recently sat on a federal panel of experts studying the future of broadcasting and telecommunications legislation in Canada.

The goal isn’t to close Quebeckers off from the world, she says – she’s a francophone born in Montreal and that didn’t stop her from listening to The Beatles. But Quebec’s cultural landscape has changed radically in the past couple of decades, to the detriment of local artists.

Fred Bastien would happily disagree with the idea that Quebec is universally for this legislation. Senator Leo Housakos is from Quebec and he does not support this legislation. There are 9 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons and they all voted against this bill to my knowledge. So, there is reason to doubt the claim that the whole province is unanimously supporting this bill.

Shockingly, the article offers up the following as a way of cancelling out any Quebec content creators:

Younger francophones live on smaller screens. The existence of a homegrown social-media ecosystem doesn’t change the fact that a preponderance of digital media is in English.

In other words, Quebec content creators don’t count. They are not part of any culture. For the author of this article, the problem isn’t that Quebec creators are trying to make their way to becoming stars online, but rather, someone in Quebec saw something that wasn’t explicitly promoting the Quebec culture. This is precisely why those who support the legislation are viewed as people who support censorship. Viewing something that is not part of your culture is not a crime, nor should it be. Yet, this article pushes the idea that as long as Quebec people aren’t viewing 100% Quebec cultural content, then there is a problem that needs fixing. Otherwise, Quebec culture would disappear. It is a comically terrible argument and the author should feel bad for even entertaining this idea in the first place.

What’s more, such an idea is completely incompatible with the way the internet works in the first place. Clearly, there is an underlying elephant in the room that this article is desparately trying to ignore: that is younger people are increasingly not interested in traditional media content. Easily, this can be attributed to a misunderstanding of what the audience wants on the part of traditional media companies. If younger people are moving away from your content, what should be mission critical is finding out why younger people are moving away from your content and finding out what kind of content these companies should be producing to bring as much of them back as possible. It’s purely a market problem that is being proposed here.

Instead, this article suggests that the solution is a government interventionist solution to a market based problem. Instead of producing the kind of content younger Quebec users want to see, the article envisions this idea that platforms be mandated by government to force that content down the users throat whether they want it or not. It completely ignores the idea of consumer choice and screams “you will consume my bad content whether you like it or not.” It’s an approach unlikely to garner any additional support for your position.

We also get treated to this paragraph:

Francophone teens watching YouTube videos in English won’t make them forget how to speak French. But it might pull them away from the unifying cultural references that help make Quebec a distinct society.

This has to be one of the most strained arguments I have ever seen trying to support Bill C-11. It admits that watching a couple of English YouTube video’s won’t make people forget how to speak French. At the same time, it argues that watching a couple of YouTube video’s in English will somehow make Quebec people less connected to Quebec culture.

What this conveniently forgets is that by virtue of living in a location, you are bathed in local culture every day – sometimes whether you like it or not. If you grow up in the United States, you’ll see non-stop wall to wall coverage of US political news to the point where you simply can’t escape it. If you grow up in Canada, you are going to end up hearing about what’s going on in the world of politics. This is whether you see it in the news or hear about it via word of mouth. I don’t see that being any different in Quebec.

One example I have seen personally about how culture seeps in regardless of personal choice is the British royal family. I have exactly zero interest in following them. I have no interest in who is in the royal family, the family members, the paparazzi that follows them, the interpersonal relationships that the members have, the places they visit, or anything else for that matter. Canada has gotten its own constitution from the British monarchy decades ago, and, quite frankly, they don’t do anything for me personally. Unfortunately, the media bombards me on a semi regular basis with all these stories about them as if they have any relevance to me. I know about the stupid Netflix special, the feuds, the drama, and many other things about them no matter how many times I try and change the channel. No matter how much the media plays it up, they are not relevant to me in any way shape or form. The problem is, I can’t avoid it.

Just because some young people in Quebec watched some English YouTube video’s doesn’t mean that they will lose all touch of Quebec culture. If they are living in Quebec with all the language laws and cultural icons being physically visible in many prominent locations, there is no “might” in this argument. At best, the word you are looking for is “unlikely”.

The article then throws out some statistics, trying to make a connection with Bill C-11 and a small sample survey:

It’s against this backdrop that C-11 has won wide support in Quebec, where the bill is more popular than in any other region. Just 19 per cent of Quebeckers oppose the idea of greater government regulation of the internet, according to a spring Nanos survey, compared with 50 per cent on the Prairies. (The poll included responses from 1,005 Canadians by phone and online, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.)

The real question here is what is being asked. There is a very big different between asking if the respondents approve of everything Bill C-11 actually does and simply “greater government regulation of the internet”. What if I told you I support the idea of “greater government regulation of the internet”, but I absolutely oppose Bill C-11? How is that possible? Simply put, “greater government regulation of the internet” can mean a whole variety of things.

For me, the reason I support the idea of “greater government regulation of the internet” comes down to the debate of personal privacy. Every day, more and more personal information gets exposed or hacked. This is thanks, in part, due to company negligence in that they don’t take steps to secure this personal information. These leaks and hacks ruins people’s lives on a routine basis and it has gotten to the point where people just accept that their information is harvested and later stolen and misused. We, as a society, have normalized this harm so when we do hear about a blockbuster leak or breach, people shrug and say that there is nothing we can do about it. It shouldn’t have to be this way and greater privacy laws tackling this issue is badly needed. However, this has nothing to do with Bill C-11.

For others, “greater government regulation of the internet” could mean the fight to stop misinformation and disinformation. We all know what happened with troll farms and the election of President Trump as well as Brexit. We also know that a major driving factor to getting people to not get the COVID-19 vaccine is misinformation and disinformation. You could list a number of examples and point to misinformation and make a reasonable argument that such activities fuelled it. I’m not personally a fan of government involvement on this front because it invariably leads to simply censoring anything that is politically inconvenient for the government, but there is a contingent of people who believe that the government should get involved in this area. Again, this has absolutely nothing to do with Bill C-11.

The above paragraph in the original article seems to be trying to manufacture consensus where there doesn’t seem to be any. The article fails to go into whether people explicitly support Bill C-11, only the vague “greater government regulation of the internet” concept which can mean multiple different things that have nothing to do with Bill C-11.

The article then closes with this:

But the bill’s limits are no reason to let it die – as was allowed to happen with the legislation’s predecessor, Bill C-10 – said Benoît Pelletier, a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister and current law professor at the University of Ottawa.

“It’s true that this law isn’t perfect but there is legislative momentum and that momentum should be seized,” he said.

If Mr. Pelletier gets his wish, future Quebec teens may at last be able to scratch their itch for summaries of Napoleon’s downfall in the language of his country.

So, at this point, the question is, what problem does Bill C-11 solve? The article completely fails to identify a single thing that Bill C-11 solves. If the attempt was to say that more people will somehow magically get Quebec people to stop watching English language video’s, shovelling money to establishment media players that have little to no interest in producing content that younger generations are interested in watching. It ultimately is to prop up legacy business models run by people who have little motivation to adjust their business models to an internet world.

Additionally, this article flat out admits that regulating user generated content is the whole point of Bill C-11. The last paragraph proves this. What people see on Netflix and Disney+ is little more than a distraction for lobbyists pushing for this bill. For them, this is about controlling what people watch on open platforms, forcing people to watch specific kinds of content, ripping up the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, government censoring anything that the establishment doesn’t like, and ruling the internet with an iron fist. For them, this whole freedom of expression thing needs to come to an end and they will lie, cheat, steal, and more to make it happen.

The problem is that this blind hatred towards free speech is going to invariably backfire. When people start seeing content irrelevant to their interests, they are going to start looking elsewhere. Eventually, it will be common knowledge that an “uncensored” YouTube is much better and the only way to access it is with anonymous tools such as Tor and VPN’s. Either that or they are going to find platforms that don’t necessarily abide by the heavy hand of government power. Feeling like breaking the rules can be a very attractive thing for younger people.

The practical effect of both is that you basically run local small businesses into bankruptcy. The system is designed explicitly to not benefit them. This is regardless if we are talking about financial issues or reach with an audience. With fewer viewers for their content, they will be the ones that suffer in all of this. That ultimately hurts both Canada and Quebec in the end because the motivation is for them to leave for a country that still supports freedom of expression.

If we well and truly were trying to get people to view more Quebec content, then mission critical would be to figure out how to fund already well known Quebec creators as well as fund initiatives that create new channels for Quebec content. Unfortunately, Bill C-11 is completely adverse to the idea, showing that Bill C-11 has little to nothing to do with supporting culture across Canada.

At any rate, the article at the Globe & Mail is absolutely terrible. It proves, yet again, that establishment media is throwing credibility and neutrality out the window and pushing articles that feed into their own business interests. The article makes no attempt at speaking to Quebec digital first creators nor does it look at popular Quebec cultural content online. In fact, it goes so far as to dismiss such content as irrelevant. Everyone involved in the writing, research, editing, and publication of this article should feel bad that they let such garbage grace their pages. More insulting is the idea that they are charging people to view such terrible content. It’s an article that should be retracted for being so bad.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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