Paula Simons is Wrong. Bill C-11 is a Censorship Bill and the Facts Prove It

Canadian Senator, Paula Simons, wrote an op-ed saying that Bill C-11 is not a censorship bill. She’s wrong.

Later this month, the Canadian senate will move forward with debate on Bill C-11 – Canada’s social media censorship bill. Late last month, the Canadian government jumped the gun and began work on a study into the legislation. It was a sign that Canada was going to thumb its nose at international trade obligations such as those under CUSMA despite the threats of retaliatory tariffs from the US.

Canadian senator, Paula Simons, has been at least asking valid questions about the legislation. This includes why there is such a big rush to ram the legislation through and whether the discoverability requirements could actually be a bad idea for Canadian creators. Now, as the importance is growing to get the facts right, it seems the senator is starting to slip and downplay the negative impacts of the legislation, painting obvious conspiracy theories with legitimate criticisms with the same brush. In an op-ed, she calls for reasoned debates and the stopping of conspiracies. Fair enough. From Alberta Views:

I find it hard to embrace legislation that aims to spoonfeed Canadian content to audiences, as though CanCon were prunes or kale or cod liver oil, which we have to be coaxed to consume because it’s “good for us” rather than something we want because it’s cool and creative.

I worry too that the discoverability provisions could backfire. If YouTube, for example, keeps serving up CanCon you aren’t interested in, and you don’t click, you could actually prejudice a Canadian artist’s chances of being seen, by sending the algorithm the message that this isn’t content people want.

So, yes. There are lots of pros and cons to this legislation—and lots of room for the Senate to improve the bill by clarifying its provisions and ensuring it doesn’t have unintended consequences.

But for months now the debate about C-11 has been hijacked and poisoned by political actors, first in Ottawa, later in the Alberta UCP leadership race, who keep pretending the bill does all manner of nefarious things that it simply doesn’t do. My email, voicemail and social media feeds have been overwhelmed with thousands of messages from people who honestly believe C-11 is a censorship bill or Communist plot or scheme by the World Economic Forum to destroy Canadian democracy, to eliminate free speech and to end Canadian society as we know it.

This disinformation campaign has convinced many that C-11 will allow the government to remove their Twitter or Facebook posts, to censor their YouTube videos, to control everything they watch or read or listen to online, even to punish them based on vaccination status. None of that is true. The bill has nothing to do with text-based sites such as Twitter. It specifically exempts video posts made by non-commercial users. It has no provisions that censor anything. It does not regulate political speech. Yet the hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that politicians have been receiving threats of violence.

For someone who is calling for a debate that separates fact from fiction, this op-ed shows that the senator is actually having a difficult time doing this herself. So, let’s see if we can help her by separating the facts from the fiction.

First of all, we’ve never heard of the theory that Bill C-11 is a conspiracy concocted by the World Economic Forum (WEF). We don’t have any reason to believe that the WEF would even care about this issue. Another point raised is that the legislation would punish people based on vaccination status. To our knowledge, there is nothing in the legislation that would do that. This sounds similar to a conspiracy theory we’ve heard that the legislation was specifically designed to censor posts made by conservatives. Also untrue. Also, the communism label is pretty meaningless from our perspective. So, now that we’ve gotten all the obviously factually incorrect stuff out of the way (and, to that end, how we agree with the Senator), lets get into the partially true stuff.

It is true that Twitter and Facebook is text based and that the legislation doesn’t target text based posts, however, both platforms also host video content as well. Short videos can be uploaded to Twitter. Full video’s can also be posted to Facebook. It’s the video content posts that can be targeted by the legislation. How specifically would the CRTC target those platforms that have mixed content? We don’t know. This is because the government refuses to lay out how the legislation would be enforced as if it was on par with nuclear secrets. Still, it is by no means a zero chance that the government would regulate Facebook and Twitter.

So, let’s tackle head-on the comment that Bill C-11 is not a censorship bill. Simons is wrong on that. No, it’s not that it would censor people based on political leanings or personal held beliefs. It’s actually much more nefarious then that. You could call it “equal opportunity” censorship.

Back in June, we discussed why Bill C-11 is a censorship in great detail. A condensed version is that Bill C-11 suppresses speech – something that is still censorship. What the legislation doesn’t do – as Simons notes – is remove speech. What it does do is suppress that speech so that few people will actually see it. The Canadian courts have recognized that the government cannot ghettoize speech as that is, in and of itself, government censorship. It would be the equivalent of saying that Simons is free to speak her mind about the legislation so long as it’s outside of Senate sitting hours, no one is in the room, and the microphones in the room are turned off.

When you produce content for YouTube, your content gets ranked based on a number of factors such as how many people like the video, how long people viewed that video, relevance to searches, and a pile of other metrics that we have varying degrees of knowledge on (many point out that it’s an opaque system). What Bill C-11 does do is give the CRTC the authority to regulate that content and require platforms to promote content based on “Canadianness”.

How will the CRTC do this? Based on current rules for determining how to produce content and be considered “Canadian”, simply being Canadian when you produce that content is not good enough. For video content, the CRTC has a massive set of rules, and even a points system, to determine whether or not a certain kind of content is “Canadian”. As we explained back in March, we ran our own podcast and vidcast through the system and concluded that we do not qualify as “Canadian content”. This is based off of how the content is produced, not even getting into the topics we cover (which is its own set of nightmarish rules).

So, what is the effect of having our content not be deemed “Canadian”? Based on what we know about how platforms recommend content, it would mean that if our content would have otherwise showed up in a search result or a recommendation, it would either get downranked or simply not show up at all. This was something we explained at length back when this legislation was known as Bill C-10. This explanation is still relevant today. As many YouTuber’s know all too well, having your content appear in the recommendations is huge for growing ones channel. Cutting that off could be what kills a lot of careers long before they even start. Who mandates this sort of thing? The Canadian government through the CRTC.

To say that it’s a myth that Bill C-11 is a censorship is either showing complete ignorance of the potential affects of the legislation or simply denying the damage it would do (or both for that matter). Of course, as we’ve noted in the past, there is actually one way that Bill C-11 can save itself from being a censorship bill. That is found in the implementation process. If anyone who is protected by the Canadian Charter is automatically deemed a producer of “Canadian content”, then this issue will become moot. Of course, the chances of that happening are about on par with me getting more subscribers on YouTube than PewDiePie and MrBeast combined before the year is out. After all, there is a very good reason why lobbyists have pushed this legislation so hard in the first place.

Now, you can ask, who benefits from this? Maybe the top 200 (500? 1000?) Canadian streamers and producers out there. The rest? Their careers have been cut off at the knees. Of course, who else theoretically benefits from this system? The big publishers and big corporations operating in the country. We’re talking Bell Media, CBC, PostMedia, and other establishment players. They want their content permanently recommended, shoving all “foreign” content aside. The problem is, Canadians such as myself would be no different from “foreign” content as we would inevitably get downranked along with them, fighting for what scraps of traffic is left over.

In short, this legislation is unconstitutional because our content would be mandated to be ghettoized and placed on pages no one would ever see. It’s censorship by omission. No, it’s not because of political viewpoints or vaccination status, but it is because we are not part of the establishment. None of this is blind conspiracy theory. This is basic common sense on how the Internet works in the real world rather than some distorted fantasy concocted by ignorant politicians where platforms have unlimited recommendations spots and that things will somehow magically work out on its own because platforms like YouTube will just “nerd harder” to overcome the obstacles they laid out before them.

It’s for these reasons and more why so many content creators are fearing for their economic lives right now. They know how these platforms work. Their concerns are getting routinely ignored and dismissed as French hating fear mongerers who are nothing but a bunch of liars who refuse to answer questions. Some have openly contemplating leaving the country because of the outright hostility they face by the Canadian government. They know full well what’s coming down and know that Liberal MPs and their lobbyists would dance on the graves of their careers when it’s all over.

It’s disingenuous for anyone to say that Bill C-11 is a censorship bill because there isn’t a provision in there specifically saying “take down ‘x’ content”.

Another aspect that’s worth tackling is this line: “It specifically exempts video posts made by non-commercial users.” If you want a sign that a politician has no idea how modern day platforms work, this is an excellent sign. This comment seems to come out of the assumption that if an ad is associated with a video, then it’s obviously commercial content and should be regulated. When no ads appear, then it’s clearly a non-commercial video that can be exempt. So, it’s just an easy way to differentiate between commercial and non-commercial content.

This is not how social media works.

By that definition, then the Freezenet official YouTube channel is being published by a commercial user. This despite the fact that the YouTube channel doesn’t make a single penny off of the content (up to now at the very least). However, if you browse through the channel video’s, you’ll notice that a few of them have ads on them. How is it that a video is running ads, yet the channel owner isn’t making any money? It boils down to the terrible ContentID system.

The channel features footage from video games. A vast majority of the games happens to have music playing in the background. Sometimes, it’s music that was internally composed and frequently doesn’t trigger the ContentID system. Other games, however, features licensed music that was authorized to play in the video game. YouTube, however, not only doesn’t recognize this reality, but also doesn’t recognize content made for journalistic purposes, criticism, or other forms of fair dealing. It just assumes that it’s just a video featuring that music in full without other sound playing and acts accordingly. In a number of cases, the video is either blocked in select countries or, as is the case with a number of them, ads play.

When the ads play, the money is siphoned off of the potential of the video and directed at a major record label. In theory, it might be directed towards the artist, but it’s unclear if that money would go to the artist eventually.

So, what does this mean for my video and my channel? Chances are, the video and/or channel will be assumed to be commercial content. It would be assumed that I’m a big content producer raking in thousands every week and regulate me accordingly. In reality, it is another vector to regulate my channel despite it’s current status as a non-commercial channel. As a result, I will get downranked based off of this false assumption.

What’s more is that platforms in general sometimes display ads next to video’s. In those cases, the platform is making the money while users view the video content. The problem is that the legislation just assumes that it’s the uploader making the money and regulating accordingly. As a result, their content might get downranked for that reason.

The talking point originates from the Liberal party as another way to sell the legislation. It depends on a lack of knowledge for how platforms actually operate. Judging by the piece by Simons, there are senators that are buying that hook line and sinker. While it’s bad enough that this lie is being eaten up, it’s even worse knowing the chaos that this alone will cause on various platforms.

Indeed, there are those that have been lucky enough to monetize. Platforms do employ quite a barrier to entry such as over a thousand followers or a certain number of thousands of hours watched, but such barriers are possible to overcome. Yes, there are big name streamers who make millions off of advertisements and advertising deals. However, those stories typically revolve around those at the very top of the social media food chain. Basing your knowledge off of those who are only at the top like that is like basing tax codes for everyone off of who makes $10 million or more per year. It doesn’t work and stands to cause a lot of problems very quickly.

What’s unnerving is seeing politicians who at least have the courage to raise questions about the legislation begin distancing themselves from reality by dismissing these concerns as “conspiracy theories”. Probably not a surprise, though, given that I’ve already predicted that the senate will refuse to do its job and block or fix the legislation. It’s the worst case scenario that we think will happen and we are already seeing signs that things are heading in that direction.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

1 Trackback or Pingback

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: