The Long Term Goals of Freezenet and How the Canadian Government Threatens Them

The Canadian government currently stands as the single biggest obstacle to Freezenet’s growth, we explain how specifically.

Trying to build a website is by no means easy. In fact, it is, arguably, much more difficult today than it was back in the late 90’s to early 2010’s. Back in the old days, all you really needed was good, high quality content and the audiences would just flow right in. This is because, back then, social news platforms were more open to smaller players rather than just shut almost all of them out in favour of larger players and establishment media. What’s more is that word of mouth was still a thing that could get you a cult following.

These days, however, standing out at all is a much more difficult proposition. Those same social news websites are typically closed off to new entrants in the news space. Delivering quality journalistic news content typically gets you, at best, a few crumbs of audience. Facebook is moving increasingly away from news, typically making it harder for any news links at all to be surfaced to a wider audience. Sure, there are a couple of players left that made their name delivering content audiences want to read, but more often then not, these players are holdovers from the old days and coasting on their audience and reach because they happen to start up at the right time in history.

If Freezenet started up in 2001, the current setup and quality of news would easily net enough audiences to pay for a nice writing staff with many possibilities for expansions. Sadly, the way the history worked out, Freezenet started in 2013 and not 2001. Between the increasingly steep climb just to get a small audience and possible downward pressure on ad revenue from Google, what would make a website a mega site back in the day can only pay for partial server costs today.

Of course, Freezenet is all about diversification. You can see on the right hand of the site all those buttons that increase the overall footprint and, thus, increased opportunities to reach an audience. There’s the huge array of guides that we offer. What’s more is that we even have a full fledged Wiki, something websites I worked for in the past dreamed of having, but never actually followed through on. Freezenet delivered on that.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable odds, Freezenet has successfully stayed online for over 10 years. The dream of expanding this site beyond a single person operation never died, despite what some might have thought would happen.

Because it was so easy to build a successful website (compared to today, that is) back in the day, the competition was much more vibrant. There were multiple sources of news devoted to discussing copyright and technology. You didn’t like one, you go to another. However, one by one, those sites shuttered as administrators moved on. This brought an inherently huge problem, though. That was the lack of actual credible news in this particular space. While there may be the odd tabloid here and there, almost no one was delivering more objective news by people with a huge amount of experience in this area of technology (Techdirt is probably the only other one I can think of). That was, in part, why Freezenet came to be. To deliver that objective and credible news.

While it was a rough start, Freezenet did very slowly grow over time. Boasting of thousands of uniques per month, the data flowing behind the scenes at Freezenet shows that there still is an audience for such content. More and more continue to turn to Freezenet for that refreshing third party analysis not bound by political affiliation and focused on the nuts and bolts of what makes different laws and stories tick.

Some people may find it hard to believe, but Freezenet was never meant to forever be a one person operation manned by myself. The hope was that, eventually, Freezenet’s traffic would bring in enough ad revenue, and revenue from other streams, to start paying for additional staff members. A longstanding problem of Freezenet was always being starved for resources and managing time to deliver maximum impact while reducing the threat of burnout. A main focus would be on staffing the front lines of the site, the news pages, with people with various background experiences who understand technology through and through from a policy perspective.

Despite countless calls for help, the only help I ever got was a volunteer to help with the editing of the podcast (who has since moved on). It seems few with the skill share the vision of having objective news that goes into various government policies and how it impacts technology. This despite there being an obvious audience for it. Part of that, however, seems to be a product of the world we live in today.

One major source is the hyperpartisan times we live in. Fewer and fewer people are looking at things like the political landscape through a neutral, non-partisan lens. As such, the neutral ground where political parties are looked at through an objective lens is shrinking more and more. Fewer and fewer people have time for nuance, understanding consequences, figuring out potential benefits, or learning something new. That space has been occupied increasingly by those who look at things through the “us vs them” lens. Are you part of team blue or team red? Are you properly passing purity tests? Any criticism of “my team” is an act of betrayal and deserves nothing less of being cast aside for the crime of not being supportive enough.

Over the years, this has been a passive observation of mine. The reason why more and more people do not understand what Freezenet is about is because more and more people are departing from that objective stance – or even understanding that objective stance. I am under no illusion that a site like Freezenet would be much more profitable if it was just another dime a dozen site meant to stoke anger and publishing whatever misinformation that will pull in the clicks, but I have too many moral standards for that.

Despite these struggles, I carry on, trying to be that small beacon of truth in these darkened times. While major media outlets have gone to the extreme of publishing misinformation about technology – sometimes intentionally – and troll farms and tabloids just publish anything for attention, the goal of Freezenet has remained steadfast an unchanged: to offer that objective standpoint on the issues of today and actually offer healthy writing meant to inform.

The future goals remain unchanged. Yes, this is taking a lot longer than I would have liked, but the goals are still the same. Eventually hire other staff members, diversify the news, offer better and better content, and, maybe, just maybe, make the world a better place as a result. I still have a number of aces up my sleeve despite the amount of time has passed. The Playstation 4 is one such example of that. There are others in the background increasingly becoming ready to be played. People who know me know I have a lot of patience to see things through.

Yet, despite the defiance of the odds facing Freezenet, the threat of the Canadian government has been one that I see as an existential threat. Between Bill C-11, Bill C-18, and the Online Harms proposal, the threats felt less like an unintended consequence and more of a very detailed and meticulous plan to completely destroy everything I have worked up for.

First, Bill C-11. Freezenet has been increasingly growing a presence on audio and video sharing platforms. Bill C-11, for a time, and could in the future still, threaten to undermine these efforts by demanding that content produced by Freezenet never reaches an audience. For some, this is a career death sentence. For Freezenet, this undermines the site’s ability to expand and reach new audiences.

Second, Bill C-18. Like many other sites out there, Freezenet gets a benefit from having links posted elsewhere. There’s still untapped potential in expanding Freezenets reach on numerous platforms even though there is a pretty wide reaching number of platforms Freezenet has a presence on. Should Bill C-18 go through as-is, platforms would be highly motivated to just ban news links altogether. This would kneecap any expansion Freezenet would ever hope to achieve on such platforms.

Finally, the Online Harms proposal. Bill C-11 and bill C-18 threatens to kneecap all potential growth. The Online Harms proposal, what we know about it so far, goes after Freezenet directly. It puts the threat of $10 million fines on this operation should we take our eyes off it for a second and someone complains that content is “harmful”. What is “harmful”? Whatever the complaining party thinks is “harmful”. Depending on the wording should this bill be tabled, it could force Freezenet to shut down completely. I like Freezenet and what it stands for a lot, but it’s not worth risking being permanently destitute over.

If all three threats fully come to fruition, I just don’t see how Freezenet can continue. No social media, no way of hosting your own website, and no linking on social media platforms. How do you even work with that?

Make no mistake, if Freezenet actually achieves the goals set out, the economic benefits of such an operation are great. You have people actively being employed, producing a great product that people can benefit from. You have the tax benefits of such an operation benefiting both government and society as a result. Innovation can flourish in part because of Freezenet contributing to such efforts.

It’s what makes Canada’s war on the open internet equal parts infuriating and distressing. The Canadian government has caught a glimpse of the future. Rather than greet it with open arms and benefit from the opportunities it represents, it chose to grab the nearby sledgehammer and start swinging, smashing it to as many bits and pieces as possible. Freezenet is just one of many that would suffer the enormous consequences of such a rejection of the future. Yes, there is no question, Freezenet, as far as I can tell, is potentially completely screwed here.

When I started Freezenet, I never anticipated that the government would one day make it all but a crime to simply write about the news of the day. Had I known that writing news would become practically illegal, I probably would have done a lot of soul searching all this time and found a new passion instead. I don’t want to be muzzled when reporting, yet that is exactly what these laws ultimately seek to do, circumventing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to do so.

Probably the only silver lining in all of this is witnessing the idea of misery loves company. I see it with many other innovators in Canada today. They are distressed, staying up at night with worry, and asking themselves if leaving the country altogether is the only means of continuing to pursue their respective dreams. These worries are far from just a single person with a unique interpretation of what these laws represent. Everyone is seeing the same massive monolithic threat that their own government is preparing to nuke everything they worked for with a sort of Maple Leaf variation of the Death Star.

As a final insult, lobbyists, with their long sharp teeth, serpentine tongue, and black and drool dripping out of the corner are whispering into the governments ear that people like us are the enemy and to stop waiting and fire the giant laser beam. Between the media outlets owned and operated by foreign hedge funds spewing countless lies about Canadian creators, the well funded lobbyists flooding government screaming poverty, and columnists pushing the narrative that this is just about fighting “Big Tech”, the messaging has been tightly controlled for the most part, leaving underfunded and under resourced players like us to be one of the only sources of truth in the debates any more – sources that are facing this very existential crises in the first place.

If the powers that be succeed, I know for a fact that history will be re-written to say that the legislative efforts, and whatever other diabolical ideas the government tables after, were a huge innovative step in the right direction and that Canada was somehow better off for it. Who would be able to disagree and point to the consequences of those efforts after that? Anyone who disagrees with such narratives would eventually be hunted down and silenced anyway.

So, unsurprisingly, I don’t like the situation I find myself in. No one in their right mind is a big fan of this situation. I had a lot of lofty goals and dreams for this site. I don’t want to see it come to an end because the Canadian government decided that it is in everyone’s best interest to abolish freedom of expression. Personally, I’ll do what I can to fight against these government efforts. I can only hope that this isn’t a fight to the bitter end.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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