Pierre Poilievre’s Bill C-18 Opposition is Justified, but His Reasons are Bizarre

Conservative Party leader, Pierre Poilievre is opposed to Bill C-18. While his opposition is great, the reasoning he has is odd.

One of the things some people tend to get wrong about me is that because I oppose Bill C-18, I must be a card carrying Conservative faithful to the all mighty Pierre Poilivre. This actually comes from both Liberal supporters and Conservatives alike. Anyone who actually knows me knows that I’m actually much more non-partisan.

Obviously, everyone in the political realm – and some in the tech realm – know that Poilivre is opposed to the Online News Act and has vowed to repeal it. The Conservative party itself is all on board with this as well. Technically, this is a good thing. The sooner this law is no more, the sooner the media sector can go back to allowing innovation to flourish in the sector. Specifically, new entrants can experiment with new business models and members of the traditional media can continue to dabble in this newfangled thing called “the internet” however they like. All of the above is a good thing.

The question, however, is if Poilievre’s position the result of knowing what the bill does and doesn’t do or if it’s actually a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day. In reading his tweets, it’s seemingly the latter outcome.

For those less familiar with Canadian politics, Poilievre is the closest equivalent to an elected politician that closely resembles Donald Trump. There are others that better fit that bill, but they have (mercifully) not been elected. What’s more, the Conservative party has basically been acting like Republican’s in the US in that they have devolved into the party of “no”. If Liberals are for it, Conservatives are almost automatically against it. Also like Republican’s south of the border, Conservatives generally don’t have much of an alternative vision beyond their dislike for what Liberals are doing (that alone hurts their electability).

With that out of the way, let’s dig into some of his comments on Bill C-18, or the Online News Act.

On June 23, Poilivre commented with the following:

Our community papers are already feeling the effect of Trudeau’s attempts to control the news Canadians see.

As Prime Minister, I will repeal Trudeau’s censorship laws and bring home free speech.

For those unable to view the tweet, this also contains a picture of a statement from DurhamRadioNews.com which says “We are not asking for a handout from the federal government, we don’t think taxpayers should have to subsidize news, we are just asking the Liberals to take their feet off of our necks.”

If you are like me, then you’ll look at those comments sideways and realize this is not technically accurate, though it isn’t immediately obvious why. Well, if you reacted like that, yes, there is actually good reason to react this way.

The reference to “Trudeau’s censorship laws” is, at least, in reference to both the Online Streaming Act (Bill C-11) and the Online News Act (Bill C-18). In the reference to the Online Streaming Act, that is actually an accurate statement. This for the reasons I laid out earlier. The problem is that this is also a reference to the Online News Act. Although it is technically causing the disappearance of news on Facebook and Instagram (and likely Google at a later time), the bill itself isn’t a “censorship law”.

The Online News Act is a link tax law. It demands payments for news links on platforms first and foremost. What it also does is give platforms a choice. Either the platforms pay for the privilege of allowing news links on their platforms or platforms drop news links altogether. Some accurately refer to this as a ransom or a shakedown. The miscalculation that the government made was assuming that news content is too valuable to drop and, therefore, the platforms have no choice but to pay for those links. In reality, platforms derive little to no value from news links and dropping news links is simply the easy (and perfectly legal) decision to make.

The Online News Act doesn’t actually demand that news get taken down directly or control who is able to post what and where. It just puts a price on news links. As a consequence, news organizations are actually losing their online audience reach. It’s the platforms that are taking down those links, not the government. What’s more, as both the platforms and the news organizations themselves have pointed out (for very different reasons), websites can still be accessible directly – just not through the platforms. Conservative supporters might say that there is no difference as the end result is the same, it’s actually not an accurate reflection of what is happening.

Another post by Poilivre pretty much re-iterates this

There you have it.

Step by step, the Trudeau government is deliberately getting in the way of what people can see and share online.

The tweet also directs users to the statement by Meta in announcing the ending of news content. We covered this the day it happened.

The problem with this tweet is the fact that the harmful affects of the Online News Act is much more across the board than that. Regardless of political leaning, if Meta thinks an organization is classified as an eligible news source, it gets blocked. It doesn’t matter if you are a “dirty Liberal propaganda outlet” or a far right extremist conspiracy theory peddler, you will get your links blocked if Meta thinks you are scoped in the Online News Act. Because of this, there is no actual means of trying to control any messaging on the part of the government. If everyone is having their reach knee capped, no one is coming out ahead on this.

A third tweet on August 1st says this:

It gets more and more surreal.

A government law is making news disappear from the internet.

When Trudeau said he admired “China’s basic dictatorship,” he meant it.

I will give people back control of their speech & lives in the freest nation on earth.

This is plainly an apples and oranges comparison. Even if Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is trying to turn Canada into China (which is not what is happening), China still has their mouth piece outlets to demand that people believe things in a certain way. Even if you subscribe to the notion that all of the larger news organizations are just arms of the Liberal party, it makes no sense that Trudeau would intentionally limit the reach of those outlets in the first place (which would be what he is doing in that scenario).

Oddly enough, the comment “A government law is making news disappear from the internet” is actually fairly accurate. Yes, Meta is not the entire internet, but it is part of the internet and the links are disappearing from that part of the internet. In all likelihood, the technically accurate statement was more by fluke, but it is actually accurate.

At the end of the day, the Online News Act was a link tax shakedown attempt gone predictably horribly wrong. It is not, in and of itself, a “censorship law”, but it is the manifestation of the large media companies shooting themselves in the foot, causing their own reach to substantially shrink.

So, in taking to consideration how Poilievre came to his conclusions, this really is a case of a stopped clock being right twice a day. Poilievre is right in opposing this and he is right that repealing this law is the right move. The logic he used to get there is a giant facepalm is all. It is quite clear that he doesn’t understand what the bill actually does, though through a series of conspiracy theories and inaccurate assumptions, somehow manages to understand the results of this law afterwards.

It is precisely this flawed thinking that the media was able to latch onto this and paint every critic with the same brush, assuming that this is everyone’s thinking. The reality is that critics have numerous reasons and perspectives that come to the conclusion that this bill should be opposed. Whether it’s from a technological perspective of how linking (the internet’s method of referencing material) should remain free because it is a fundamental building block of the World Wide Web, from a business perspective in that entrepreneurs shouldn’t face unnecessary barriers to market entry, or from a journalism perspective that people should have easy access to accurate information about what is happening in the world around them, there’s a huge spectrum of reasons to oppose the Online News Act.

Sadly, a tactic by supporters is to just focus on Poilievre’s flawed assessment of the new law and refuse to do their research afterwards, making it sound like critics don’t know what they are talking about when, in fact, we actually do more so than most. After all, a large majority of the large media companies coverage has been pretty disingenuous at best and an outright disinformation spreading exercise at worst.

Nevertheless, we’ll do our part to trying to keep setting the record straight. After all, that’s our job in the first place.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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