Senate Hearings on Bill C-11 – A Look at the Seventh Hearing (Second Segment)

We are continuing the special coverage of Bill C-11 hearings. Today, we are looking at the second segment of hearing seven.

The special coverage of the Bill C-11 senate hearings is continuing. The road is certainly getting longer as we carry on with these hearings.

For those who are curious about the previous hearings, you can check out our coverage below:

Hearing 1 – Privacy Commissioner and Global Affairs/Justice Department
Hearing 2 – Digital rights organizations and lobby groups (1)
Hearing 3 – Lobby groups (2) and platforms (1)
Hearing 4 – Lobby groups (3) and lobby groups (4)
Hearing 5 – Lobby groups (5) and lobby groups (6)
Hearing 6 – Music Canada / platforms (2) and lobby groups (7)

More recently, we covered the first segment of this hearing. That segment contained scholars talking about the legislation.

One scholar opened, saying he’s supportive of the legislation and said that concerns about user generated content was completely unfounded. By the end of it, he agreed with the other two scholars, saying that Section 4.1 and 4.2 needed to go because it creates unnecessary confusion as the focus is supposed to be on the biggest players in the sector. In fact, he seemed absolutely bewildered as to why the heck those sections were even added in the first place. Others called for the removal of both sections from the beginning. So, really something to see someone over the course of their hearing do a complete 180 as that is a first so far.

We intended on continuing our special coverage the other day, but were delayed by the Chris Bittle witness intimidation scandal that broke. So, today, we are continuing our coverage instead. The video has been posted online and will be the video we will be following. As usual, in terms of thoroughness of what was said, nothing will beat the video or an official transcript. Still, we are doing our best to not only provide an in-depth summary, but also analysis on what we saw and heard.

Opening Remarks

Justin Tomchuk (AKA Umami) opened with his remarks. He noted that 97% of his funding supporters live outside of Canada. He comments that Section 4.2 (a) of Bill C-11 means that his work falls under the directive of the CRTC as he derives direct and indirect revenue from his artistic efforts. He notes that some have commented how algorithm talk is not a concern and has taken up too much of his time. He quotes CRTC Chair, Ian Scott when he says that he is directing platforms to produce a particular outcome from these algorithms. The CRTC won’t care about the actual source code, but they only care about the end result.

Tomchuk commented that as someone who has used these platforms, algorithms are the platforms. You can’t force discoverability on a platform without changing the algorithms. Any form of non-algorithmic promotion still displaces content and soaks up screen real-estate. Outcomes of Cancon will displace other content period. He says that this spells trouble for anyone who produces content or otherwise uses social media to promote themselves to an international audience.

If passed, he says, Cancon content will downgrade content to an international audience. This, he notes, leads to mismatching content with users interest. He says that you can force a video to a user, but you can’t force a user to watch it. Canadians will learn to click away and avoid cancon.

Further, Tomchuk notes that this legislation violates the USMCA and could potentially be the subject of retaliatory tariffs from the US and the EU. Further, it creates incentives other countries to follow suit, passing similar laws and creating bubbles of content rather than the free flow exchange of culture. HE offered several examples of how the legislation could hurt individual business owners.

After that, he cited Pablo Rodriguez’s comment that the legislation could generate $1 billion to the Canadian economy. He then notes that YouTube’s creative ecosystem in 2021 generated $1.1 billion to the Canadian economy and contributed 34,000 jobs. He says that we are already making the platforms work for us and it’s not the legacy media. He says that if Bill C-11 passes, he could see companies with few physical ties to Canada leave the country entirely to avoid these regressive mandates.

Tomchuk notes that a glaring omission in the legislation is that there are no revenue thresholds for online undertakings. Third party websites could be subject to the law if he were to self promote. He calls this anti-innovation and anti-competitive in the streaming space.

He then calls for all C-11 discovery mandates to be stripped from the legislation as Canadians already have the choice to watch Cancon programming. There are no scheduling limitations as is the case for radio or television. At the end of the day, the legislation would not promote Canadian content and only serve to prop up legacy media corporations who receive the lions share of grants and who are not being unfairly targeted on streaming platforms. They have simply failed to understand their audiences desires. Bill C-11 will not fix this.

J.J. McCullough then opened with his remarks. He said that over the last few months, he is proud to have helped to lead the charge in the fight against Bill C-11. He notes that video of his parliamentary hearing garnered over 500,000 views which is a testament of the depth of public interest on this issue. He comments that this and other video’s about Bill C-11 has caused some people to recognize him on the street and ask if the legislation is as bad as people say it is. He comments that the answer will depend on what the committee chooses to do.

From there, he commented that people in the public don’t see this as a badly written bill. Many, however, consider the bill badly motivated. Of the dozens of creators he has spoken to, none have expressed an interest in working under a government mandate that forces content onto users. Arguments that this legislation will improve Canadian patriotism, nationalism, or cultural sovereignty are simply unpersuasive. Content that is freely uploaded and succeeds or fails based on what people want to see is a status quo that few Canadians want overturned.

Currently, he says, an unregulated YouTube has generated numerous success stories and given users hundreds of hours worth of enriching content. To consider this as a problem that needs fixing reeks of political obliviousness.

He admits that he is aware of the role of the Canadian senate and is sensitive to the idea that, at this stage, people should hope for compromise rather than perfect victory. Proponents of the bill in the Canadian media are animated by a sincere desire for fairness. YouTubers and users he’s spoken to understand that large platforms should pay their fair share of Canadian taxes in this country. He notes that YouTube has suggested that higher costs of doing business could be passed on to users and creators in the form of user fees, more ads, or fewer revenues for creators like them. He comments that this is a sacrifice many creators are willing to make if it means that it removes provisions that forces platforms to forcibly promote content onto users it feels Canadians should be watching.

Another compromise he suggests is to simply lower the regulatory burden on old media rather than spread the regulatory burden onto new media. Legacy broadcasters are not wrong to say that internet creators have received historically special treatment. In 1991, the Chretien government made the decision to not allow the CRTC to regulate the internet, believing that an unregulated internet would be the best way to let the Canadian creators thrive. That prediction came true as evidenced by many creators such as them creating content to the world over. His hope is that the Senate will preserve this proven recipe for success. If it’s envied, why not afford all media the same privileges?

It has always been freedom of choice and speech that has been the greatest enablers of culture, not the heavy hand of government dictating what Canadians should be creating. This may be the tradition of some countries, but not ours. In Canada, freedom should never be seen as an obstacle to patriotism.

Wyatt Sharpe then opened with his remarks. He comments how he creates a show and speaks to numerous politicians both domestically and internationally. He notes that there are many things that are agreeable in the summary while other things may not be as agreeable.

Questioning the Witnesses

Senator Leo Housakos started the questioning by noting how others have said that there is a risk that if other jurisdictions implement similar laws, then this would limit the potential success for Canadian content providers. He then notes Tomchuk has pointed out that it’s possible that his content could get promoted to users who have no interest in his content, thus decreasing click through rates and driving his global content downward. It sounds like the success Tomchuk has is something that should be replicated, rather than blunting. If passed, Bill C-11 will have the opposite effect of what supporters claim will have on Canadian creators. What objectives does he want to see accomplished in this bill and would he agree to passive discoverability?

Tomchuk responded, saying that it is opinion that any form of discoverability requirements is going negatively impact creators such as himself and any Canadian who uploads to YouTube. He says that discoverability mandates should be removed entirely from the bill because it’s unlike radio and TV where there was a limited amount of slots. There’s really nothing stopping anyone from making their video’s available on the internet. This includes legacy broadcasting media who could start their own broadcasting apps like what Netflix or Amazon has done.

He says that the problem Bill C-11 is trying to solve which applied to radio and television – that there was only 24 hours in a day and that they were regional players. On Youtube, you can pretty much choose whatever you want and there’s nothing stopping you from doing so.

Senator Housakos then asked if it was safe to say that we have a situation where legacy broadcasters are losing eyeballs, their ratings are going down, and their business model isn’t working, and yet there is a will to go back to hose and carriage instead of catching up to modern platforms where he looks at you (the witnesses) and he sees that content creators present seem to be the future of this country.

The truth of the matter is that the future belongs to the youth and the creators are able to use the platforms to reach an audience around the world more so than ever before. So, shouldn’t we be utilizing this technology to reach out to the world rather than defending a model that is clearly not working and clearly aren’t getting the eyeballs that they are getting?

Tomchuk responded that, yes, legacy media is losing eyeballs, but he wouldn’t say it’s necessarily the technology disruption. He believes that they are misunderstanding their audiences desires. Particularly in the subsidized legacy media sector, there is content being produced without any real audience in the first place. Part of the problem as to why they are failing in the first place is not necessarily because YouTubers are disrupting them, but they have failed to reach their own audiences in the first place. Thus, audiences have moved on to YouTube. The legacy outlets are losing their status as the cultural provider. It’s not YouTubes doing that they are failing.

Senator Marty Klyne quoted McCullough during his House of Commons committee that Bill C-11 is not a bill that creators asked for, nor need, and one that threatens the success that we have already achieved. Given the bills aim is to make Canadian content successful and discoverable. What’s more, just like traditional broadcasting, the bill aims to get platforms to contribute to Canadian programming and production in an equitable and fair way. So, how does this threaten YouTube and streaming services and does he believe it would de-prioritize Canadian content to an international audience as Tomchuk noted that it does? Would it not also, at the same time, broaden your reach across Canadian viewers?

McCullough responded that, perhaps it would, but Canada is a relatively small county in the grand scheme of things. It’s a population of 38 million in a world with over a billion people. So, even if he maximizes his Canadian exposure while his international exposure is getting dropped, then this is a net negative because the international audience is just so much higher than the Canadian audience. Being a huge international hit will always be a bigger prize than even just being the biggest hit in Canada.

Senator Klyne asked how it would get diluted?

McCullough responded that if their content is getting walled in and only promoting it domestically, and international audiences are being kept away, then this would mean bad things for Canadian creators. What creators are wanting is that their content is being promoted internationally. They want the status quo where their content is equally promoted to all nations of the world rather than being exclusively to Canadian audiences.

Senator Klyne said that the worry is that Canadians will get walled off from the rest of the world.

McCullough responded that that is how he understands the motive. It is to promote Canadian content of a certain sort to be promoted to Canadian audiences. Under the bill, the CRTC will order platforms to treat that content in that fashion. So, if a Canadian creator uploads their content, the order is to promote that content to a Canadian audience.

Senator Klyne then asked where in the bill does it wall Canadian content off where streaming services will not be promoting content outside of the country.

Tomchuk responded that it’s not specifically in the bill how they would attract viewers. For instance, on a global platform like YouTube, if you are to get extra views in Canada, then someone from the perspective of a place like Germany sees these extra views, with the normal traffic everywhere else, then YouTube is going to detract viewership because Canadians would have an unfair advantage. So, he says, let’s say you are working on niche content with a cap of 30,000, but globally, that audience is much higher, then you are limiting your potential scope of audiences that would actually be there (thanks to the focus on Canadian content). Those Canadian viewers might be less relevant to the content that you produce.

(I think, more specifically, it’s about click through rates. If your getting more impressions from the extra promotion of Canadian content, and those audiences don’t see the relevance of your content, then your click through rate drops. This negatively impacts your international performance because a site like YouTube will look at this and say, “well, we promoted this content to x number of people, but few people are clicking on it, therefore, it’s not good content. It’s a mismatch in audience that causes the aforementioned walled in effect.)

Senator Karen Sorensen commented that she agrees with McCullough’s comment that we are now at the stage of compromise. She then asked if there are amendments that can be applied to this bill that would help UGS (User Generated Content) be made?

McCullough responded that there is a financial dimension to the bill. There is a subsidy dimension to this bill and a Quebec dimension to this bill. There are comments about platforms paying their fair share. As such, Quebec might rely more heavily on subsidies than creators like them. So, this may be where compromise can happen. So called “Big Tech” could pay into funds more as long as the government gets out of forcing users to watch content through discoverability requirements.

Tomchuk notes that content creators are not just individual creators, but also companies as well. Some of these companies are producing tens of thousands of dollars per month, maybe even hundreds of thousands of dollars. A lot of that money goes right back into taxes. As a result, it feels like he is already doing his part by paying his taxes which goes into these legacy media funds. For him, he is, at the same time, disqualified from applying for those funds. For him to pay to fund the competition feels a bit unfair to him. As time goes on, these large media players are going to be in competition with smaller YouTube players. The line separating a content creator and big media creator is going to be very blurred.

So, he says, the idea of YouTube and TikTok paying into a fund to support legacy players that legacy players had nothing to do with the growth of YouTube or TikTok in the first place. He feels that it’s unfair that they have to pay into those systems.

Sharpe comments that there are different kinds of players, so Bill C-11 could offer support for different players, depending on where they are at.

(This is a really good point in these debates. Many of these funds are there to support large legacy players. In fact, while debating this, I pointed out that there is a high bar to even be able to receive such funds such as what your registered corporation is. It is an ill fit for a smaller creators on YouTube or Tiktok. So, it does make for an unfair advantage where these large corporations receive who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars while the small creator only has a cheap phone, a bad connection, and nothing funding his efforts. Would it not make sense to adjust the system in such a way to recognize the evolution of the industry and come up with a fair and equitable system that allows creators to get some of that funding to start their own careers? It’s a very fair question to raise here.)

Senator Julie Miville-Dechene asked if they would like an opt-out system and stay in the free-for-all world?

Tomchuk responded, saying that he would be against that only because you still have legacy media corporations content on the platforms. If you opt out, you are going to be at a disadvantage locally, but if you opt-in, you are going to be at a disadvantage globally. So, he doesn’t believe an opt-out system would be beneficial to creators like themselves.

McCullough agreed because he wouldn’t want to see Canadian creators have to choose between their own country and international stardom. The status quo has been able to enable success both domestically and internationally. The bill views both objectives as being at odds when there is no evidence to suggest that they are. He believes that it is possible to make Canadian content and still be appealing to an international audience. He used himself as an example where he makes content that is primarily Canadian focused, but there is still a major international audience.

Senator Miville-Dechene said that they have talked a lot about Canadian content. However, she says that we all know that minority content like French content is not easy to discover on platforms like YouTube. It’s this freedom that they are hoping to have is having a negative impact on minorities such as French minorities. It’s not easy, so where do you find the right balance?

Tomchuk responded that he would challenge the notion that these platforms are discriminating against minorities. If you are content creating, there is no gate keeping involved at all to upload something to YouTube. So, for himself, he is half Indian and Ukrainian. He doesn’t consider himself a minority and he doesn’t feel that he should have any sort of advantage over anyone else because the internet is a level playing field. If you wanted to increase the accessibility or increase the visibility of indigenous cultures, probably a better solution, rather than mandating outcomes, is to offer better access to the internet – namely increasing broadband access to rural and indigenous communities.

Senator Miville-Dechene asked, but if nobody watches it?

Tomchuk responded, saying that he could make a video and no one watches it, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is underserving the topic he created the video about, it may be that there just isn’t very many people interested in the topic that he is covering.

McCullough responded that it’s important that we don’t evaluate the value of content strictly based on its popularity. Popularity of content only means popularity of content. It doesn’t imply a moral worth. He then cites the two most popular Canadian Youtubers are also both racialized Canadians. The good things about platforms like YouTube is that you sink or swim based on the popularity of your content – again, not implying moral worth – but it does imply that a free market based platform like YouTube (time had run out).

Senator Fabian Manning noted the submission saying that Bill C-11 puts the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Canadian creators at risk. We don’t specifically know how the CRTC would administer the legislation partly because the government has refused to release its policy directives and won’t release it until after the bill is passed. He then asked if it would be useful to have the policy directive released beforehand and does the failure to release the policy directive contribute to the uncertainty?

McCullough responded that you take a read of Bill C-11 and you might not see some of the things that they are worried about. That is, in part, because Bill C-11 just delegates authority to an executive branch agency to hammer out the specific rules about how this legislation will be implemented on a day to day basis. Politicians, these days, pass broad laws for an executive branch such as the CRTC to hammer out the specifics. It’s true, until we get guidance or directives from the CRTC of how they are going to use these powers and how they are going to get into the specifics to improve discoverability of content – depending on their assessment of what good Canadian content is – how they are going to interpret their mandate. Until we get a clearer sense of how that is actually going to be implemented, and how platforms like YouTube are going to be legally required to implement it, we are all still just in the realm of speculation.

Further, he says that for everyone who views people like them as doomsday people or fearmongering, it is a problem the CRTC could help alleviate and bring some closure by releasing their directive. He recognizes that the CRTC has its own process and has its own pseudo-legislature with its own processes and hearings in and of itself. Manning is absolutely right, until we hear directly from the CRTC, we are all mostly in the realm of speculation. To him, that speaks to the perspective of how fundamentally anti-democratic this process is by giving so much power to an unelected and unaccountable body like the CRTC.

Senator Manning then asked about the specific implications it would have on their operations without that clarity of the bill.

McCullough responded that when you talk to YouTubers, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty about the future. They don’t really know what the future is going to look like, what kind of content they are going to have to make, they don’t know how this is going to affect their revenue, how this is going to affect their discoverability, or how this is going to affect their bottom line. This is what they do to make a living and it’s not helpful for the government to introduce tremendous amount of uncertainty into the future of this very vibrant and very dynamic part of the Canadian cultural economy at this critical time.

This is why he says that this is a solution in search of a problem. Things have been puttering along pretty good for him even while he isn’t even in the top 400 Canadian YouTubers. There have been tremendous success stories that have then been percolated outwards like when you think of the staff and the various people that they are employing. To put this huge question mark into all of this is hugely frightening to a lot of creators.

Senator Paula Simons commented that when she started as a journalist, she had to run her newspaper through a gestetner. The problem is that after running the newspaper through a gestetner, people on the playground were more likely to punch her than read her newspaper. For her, Sharpe’s career represents the genius of this moment in our cultural and social history that he could launch a TV channel and build an audience. So, she wanted him to elaborate on how he was able to leverage YouTube in that way and what the trajectory of the path and the audience he’s had and what supports YouTube had in the building of that audience.

Sharpe responded that the power of social media and the ability of social media has to impact and allow people to express their messages. This is, in a certain respect, what he is doing. It has, obviously, grown in the past years and the past decades. When he first started in January of 2021, he released the first few episodes not really thinking in the way it would reach people at the point there is now. Another point is that, depending on the exact topic, you can get different results. So, one topic, you might get a few thousand views while in another topic, you might get tens of thousands of views. So, it is interesting to gauge the audience to find out what topics they are interested in.

Senator Simons commented that she asks because she has a YouTube channel that doesn’t get that kind of success as opposed to her podcast. So, she asked if it depends on the topic and day of the week?

Sharpe responded that there isn’t really a set average as views go up and down depending on what topics people are interested in. You could have one interview that has only 500 or 1000 views at best, then another interview that gets 10s of thousands of views. So, it depends on what people actually care about. It’s an up and down trend depending on what topics people are really focusing in on and how relevant those issues play into the news cycle.

Senator Simons asked if YouTube corporately helped support his channel and get more viewership to his channel.

Sharpe responded, saying not necessarily in terms of support, but same as any other content creator on the platform. He noted Jeanette Patel of YouTube commenting that it’s about trying to build as big of an audience as possible for creators so that they can access journalism content from coast to coast to coast.

Senator Simons commented that the algorithm has always been the god in the machine. We never know exactly how it works. She met with Facebook a few weeks ago and they said that they are going to start transitioning away from news content. So, she noticed that posts that would have been engaging on Facebook three years ago doesn’t seem to attract the same engagement today. She said that she doesn’t it’s just her as she doesn’t think she’s less boring than she was those years ago, but she worries that she puts a little too much confidence in the algorithms to be agnostic. If he would ever like more clarity from YouTube that would help them as a producer, to better communicate with the oracles that is the YouTube algorithm.

Sharpe commented that it’s about the sharing of content and how the algorithms interact with the content. As she alluded to, there are algorithms that seem to becoming less and less reliant. For him and his show, he’ll give the new leader of the opposition it could get thousands of views. You could also interview a smaller politician, it may get less engagement, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s less important to cover. The algorithms are important, but there are also a lot of politicos who are watching- (time expired).

Senator Jim Quinn commented that his questions wound up evolving throughout the presentation. One thing he wanted to touch on is the uncertainty due to the lack of the release of the policy directive. So, as the CRTC develops a regulatory regime, that regime goes through a vetting process. Sometimes, that doesn’t give a proper rigour of a review process that users may want to have. Is there something that can be done? He’s getting at the appeals process and someone says ‘no, that’s not fair, that’s not right’, it’s an appeal process that involves courts. Is there something else that can be done to change the system to allow a body like the senate or this committee to be involved in regulatory concerns raised by users so we can have some certainty. Is that something that might be helpful?

Tomchuk responded that a lot of CRTC decisions are not very transparent in the first place. It would be very helpful to see what their intentions are by putting forth at last a draft of their directives because, right now, it’s basically just a black box that we are approving that we will find out later. By then, it will be too late because they would have the power to choose what to do.

McCullough chimed in, saying that it is very suspicious that we are granting all of these powers and it is a democratic anxiety that we have to go through all of this again and deal with the CRTC. The CRTC is a sort of pseudo legislative functions. These regulators are acting as miniature legislators in and of themselves with their own hearings and processes. For him, fundamentally, this is how the legislative process is supposed to operate in that if we have concerns, we should bring them to their elected representatives and senators should offer clarifications in terms of the terms and scope. If there are problems, then we can appeal to our MPs (Members of Parliament) and Senators. Digital first creators just don’t have that relationship with mysterious bodies of government. Parliament should assert more controls if there are anxieties about the process.

Senator Quinn commented that they are trying to make things more accessible and discoverable. Some of the things hes hearing is causing him to ask and attempt to achieve that. Is there an opportunity to do quite the opposite. He’s worried that if they force people to see Canadian content, then the answer for Canadian users is to click away. So, this could be the opposite effect. Is this something we should be concerned about?

Tomchuk responded, “yes, absolutely”. Unlike the radio, if there is something that is playing on the radio you don’t like, you have to sit there and listen to it. On YouTube, however, one click away and you’re gone. People will start to resent the content that is being forced onto them. So, you might end up building an audience that resents the kind of content that you are trying to promote.

McCullough chimed in that he thinks that we, as Canadians, have all had the experience of turning on the television and seeing some Canadian show that we just don’t want to watch. We ask why this is being shown and nobody wants to watch this and its clearly not popular. You then grow to resent that. In some corners of the country, cancon is a dirty word or an insult. It is because it is the CRTC forcing mandates on content that people don’t really want onto the airwaves and onto their television. The last thing we want is that same kind of resentment towards Canadian content to emerge onto the internet space.

Senator Quinn then asked Sharpe with all the folks he is talking to if there are specific concerns about C-11?

Sharpe responded that the process of Bill C-11 has certainly been politicized. There is the Conservative Party who says that this is about censorship while the Liberal party says this is about promoting Canadian content. Those seem to be the most popular perspectives. (time elapsed)

Senator Bernadette Clement commented that just because one creator is wildly successful doesn’t necessarily mean that there are minority voices are facing barriers to getting their content to audiences. She then asked about how deeply they look at their analytics. What proportion of it is Canadian and what proportion of it is international? Does the analytics change what kinds of content is produced? Also, why don’t they trust the algorithms to ensure Canadian content will be tailored to users interests as all content already?

Tomchuk responded that there is a valid concern that we don’t really understand how these algorithms work. The problem, for instance, is that the bill doesn’t really address any of that. We have programs on YouTube and YouTube is changing their algorithm every week. There are lots of internal numbers that go into the internal scoreboard of your video. So, personally, as a creator, he doesn’t focus too much on the algorithm. You have to just make the content you are wanting to produce in the first place.

McCullough chimed in and said that there are two types of creators in the YouTube subculture. There are those who are very creative and have faith that their work will ultimately be rewarded and have proven to be successful in doing that. Then there are some who are really obsessed with the algorithm and really obsessed with the data and numbers. He’s not like that either. They can drill down into watch time and making sure certain content is engaging enough in certain parts of the video, etc. It can get really nuts. He’s not that way. He makes video’s that are broadly resonant both international and domestic.

Most of his audience is foreign like American’s and Europeans. Canadians make up a third of his audience and, sometimes, quite a bit less. He says he thinks that shows that explicitly Canadian content like the video he is going to make about this whole process will resonate well with international audiences. A lot of people are very interested in Canada. A lot of people feel they don’t know enough about Canada. They want to learn more about this country. They are really hungry and have an appetite for it.

So, he says that there is a misunderstanding that Canadian content creators are these delicate fragile creatures in need of government help because, otherwise, they are just going to wilt on the vine. He doesn’t think that is the case. He doesn’t think that is the case for racialized content creators or LGBT content creators like himself. This is a market driven system. It is not perfect, but it is a pretty good system that is working for a lot of Canadians. It’s why we should be skeptical of the government wanting to put their hand into a good and working thing and much around with it.

Sharpe responded that he is a producer of Canadian political news. Unless he is focusing on an issue abroad of course. He’s not necessarily looking at the algorithm, but rather, what issues or topics resonates more with users and what has the biggest impact on people and, more specifically, the people who are watching his show.

From there, the hearing adjourned.

Concluding Thoughts

Probably the biggest point to be raised here is that this is the first hearing in this Senate process that actually brought on board Canadian creators. I think that is definitely something that has been decidedly missing all the way up to now, so it was nice to see representation from those who would be most affected by this bill.

Another thing that is important is that pushback on the emphasis on algorithms. There was such a huge emphasis on algorithms in a way that says that algorithms are the be all, end all to everything. The creators are absolutely right in saying that this is not the case because, at the end of the day, you are creating content that you want to make. That should be the most important aspect of all of this. Are you creating content that you enjoy creating? If not, the system, one way or another, is probably going to chew you out of the system – typically through burnout and lack of interest.

While I appreciate the fact that algorithms are a black box and are a very opaque system, even if you did know all the nitty gritty of every aspect of the YouTube algorithm, it is not going to be that missing silver bullet that is that barrier to success or failure. This is because the users are going to be the most important metric at the end of the day. I say that from personal experience using other platforms.

During my time on both Slyck and ZeroPaid, there were a number of social news websites that took in content and let them both float and sink based on human interaction. At the time, Digg was an absolutely huge thing that was blowing up and it was a platform that set out different categories, then let users vote content up or down based on whether they thing the content should be promoted or not. So, I’ve had multiple stories make it to the front pages of some of these sections that netted me huge numbers of page views. So, this is basically as open and transparent as you could ever possibly expect.

The thing I did learn in those years is that you never know what content is going to be an extremely big hit or a massive uninteresting miss. For instance, there are topics that I felt was hugely important and affected a huge number of people. So, I confidently submitted some of those stories thinking that story is destined for the front page. Hours later, I find that the content barely got one or two votes forward. Other times, I would produce content that did seem important enough to write, but probably not that interesting to a broader audience. That content would get submitted and, the next thing I know, my article is being read everywhere.

The immediate conclusion many laypeople might have is that it is clear I don’t know what is hit or miss content. That is definitely not the case because there are so many factors going on that are completely beyond my control and not predictable. For instance, that story that I thought would be huge and likely important to the overall discussion might not have made a dent for a number of reasons. One reason is that some other larger publication picked up on the story, cited my work as a source, published their own article, and basically took all the glory for the content I found. That happens, as sucky as that is. Another reason is that maybe that content would have otherwise been popular, but people were promoting some bad experience with Comcast technical support or a host of other stories running through the system that day and my story got overlooked anyway.

On the flip side, that story that I didn’t think would get that much attention suddenly hitting it big might be because that section on Digg was absolutely starved for content and my content just so happens to be what tided users over. It’s things like that that make this process hugely unpredictable even without this black box that is algorithms being there.

The problem for Digg was that, while this is a system that was open and transparent, it was also ripe for abuse. For instance, numerous users basically spent months building up their reputation on such a site so that numerous other followers simply vote content up and down based on their whims. In turn, that user would then make it a business to promote content up or down. So, news organizations would pay those people money to keep promoting their content (which is how you get instances where people don’t understand how some stories make it to the front page). Another problem is that rival news sites users would demote and downvote rival news sites content. Size of the fanbase would then determine winners and losers as opposed to the quality of the content. There was a lot of money involved with this, so the financial motive was most certainly there.

So, the risk associated of demanding open and transparency with the algorithms is inherently those who are only wanting to see the nuts and bolts of how it all works and simply abuse that knowledge for financial gain. What’s more is that knowing everything about a given algorithm isn’t necessarily going to be that silver bullet to success because you still have that dynamic aspect of user choice and user preference.

All of that is why so many creators simply create stuff that they enjoy creating. Rather than stressing about about analytics and algorithms, it’s much easier to be your own filter and offer content you think would be interesting to a prospective audience. If you happen to make it big, excellent. You are rich beyond your wildest dreams while making content that you like making. Jackpot. If you aren’t that successful, well, who cares? You enjoy what you are making anyway and that is, in and of itself, rewarding. Either way, it’s a win win and sustainable mindset.

A third point that I thought was interesting was how some Senators were wringing their hands about how minority content is not being seen and is being actively suppressed. By the end of it, you have an Indian/Ukrainian, a 13 year old, and a member of the LGBT community staring back at these senators saying, ‘no, that is not happening’ and even citing many other Canadian creators who are both successful and what would be considered visible minorities. Further, those same people are saying that they shouldn’t suddenly be promoted based on minority status or anything like that.

I thought that really obliterated that notion that the algorithms are somehow inherently racist or inherently discriminatory against minorities. There never was any real evidence being put forth that said that the system is working against members of these minority groups. It was always just an assumption that they were to try and advance the argument that Bill C-11 is needed. The final twist in it is the fact that, as brought up by Tomchuk, the legislation doesn’t even address this issue in the first place. This hearing alone pretty much made the argument of suppression of minority voices a dead one.

So, all in all, I’d say this was a really interesting hearing. Hopefully, Tomchuk didn’t feel like he was really carrying this as I noticed open questions often wound up with him leading, but Tomchuk really held his own whenever he got put on the hot seat. It’s also fair to say all of the witnesses did a world of good for content creators in their own ways, so, all three of them did a great job as far as I’m concerned.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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