Why The Anti-Innovator Messaging Underscoring Bill C-11 from the Government is Awful

One of the most toxic elements within the Bill C-11 debate is the messaging the legislation sends to online innovators.

With Bill C-11 becoming law, you could spend an eternity explaining all the downsides that this brings. Perhaps one of the most toxic elements that came out of this debate is the underlying messaging that the government has sent to online innovators across the country.

For context, I know personally what it’s like to be an online innovator first hand. After all, you are experiencing an element of this innovation by simply reading this article.

For myself, personally, journalism was something I didn’t even know I wanted to do when I started this journey. Journalism pretty much chose me. As I went deeper into the journalism gig, I eventually figured out that this was something that I really wanted to do. Today, I can hardly imagine life without occasionally doing a writeup on what’s going on in the world of technology today. A lot of people might look at writing a news article and call it work. For me, though, this is one way I actually enjoy life. Judging by how much traffic goes to this site, it appears that there are plenty out there who enjoy reading what I produce as well.

The striking thing in all of this, compared to the traditional industry, is the fact that no one is really asking for a resume. To start up your own site, you don’t need to offer letters of reference, samples of your work, specific college credentials, or even a cover letter. The question is, can you start up a functional website and start writing? Obviously, here, the answer is “yes”. What’s more, the internet is global, so you are basically putting your skills to the ultimate test as you try and carve out your own audience on the global stage.

I personally know first hand why the contrast to the traditional sector is so big. Indeed, while working for a top 25,000 internet website across the global internet, I opted to see if I could work for a traditional news organization. Given the traffic I was helping to pull in, there was clear evidence at the time that my writing had impressive value. The only form of a breakthrough was at a university newspaper. As my writing carried on at a regular pace, I had people stopping me in the halls and telling me that I had become one of the biggest reasons they read the student newspaper. In one instance, a professor had started a lecture in a large theatre by saying that he recommended that people read one of my articles (at the time, it was a newspaper variation of my writeup about Sony getting sued for software piracy). The class had nothing to do with technology, so it was quite the compliment. It was objectively obvious that my writings helped to “sell” the free newspaper on campus.

Shockingly, that is where my success ended. After attempting to get a job at multiple local media organizations, I was routinely told that the topics I covered had no value to their readers. In one instance, a newspaper executive, in his infinite wisdom, told me to “come back when you write real news”. In another instance, a news organization was hiring a “web journalist”. Despite my years of experience writing and successfully promoting news at the time, the manager there said he didn’t see how I could possibly fit the role. Instead, they hired someone from half way across the country with little to no experience to fill the role – someone who apparently hated the position because he didn’t like staring at a screen all day. I’m guessing the attitude was generally that ‘what would some nerd know about the internet anyway?’ Note that I never said that the news management of these organizations were necessarily bright.

So, not only did the internet start my long and fruitful career as a journalist, but it helped maintain that career as well – a point of view reflected by the traffic count, not necessarily the ad revenue these days. Luckily for me, the web is still where I find myself most comfortable doing my work anyway even if maintaining a whole website and diversifying the content is proving to be much more challenging than simply doing write ups all day long.

The thing is, my own story is not necessarily novel or unique. In fact, the Bill C-11 debate proved, yet again, that my story is incredibly common. You hear comedians being told that their style of comedy is too niche by big players only to become hugely successful online. You have skateboarding mothers who otherwise would have been obscure getting sponsorship’s for producing short videos. You have indigenous people who were told that their story telling is not a good fit for a particular media brand finally getting a voice and finding success. All of this is thanks to the internet and the opportunities it provided that would otherwise not be available. Indeed, I wouldn’t have been a successful journalist today had it not been for the internet.

So, it really isn’t that big of a surprise that the internet today has evolved into something that not only has a massive diversity of content, but is also attracting an audience. As a result, it has become a source of culture that people continue to turn to.

As a result of this, the internet is becoming a victim of its own success – at least in Canada. Large media organizations sometimes decry the fact that their audiences is dropping to this nebulous “internet thing” and “something must be done” to reverse the trend. It appears that decades of turning talent away at the door was finally biting executives in the rear end and they were about to exercise their deep pockets and lobbying muscles to try and lock the internet down in such a way that only the cultural elite and the powers that be are entitled to having an audience. They twisted enough lawmakers arms to make that happen.

Creators are regularly finding success online and basic logic and reasoning would say that such success should be celebrated. If there is a growth sector in the economy, the government should be finding ways of supporting such a growth sector. Whether this is through government programs or other forms of assistance, there is this sort of gold rush of potential future large businesses that could be paying taxes and filling government coffers. That is a basic common sense approach to this. That, however, didn’t happen.

As the debate surrounding Bill C-11 went on, it had become crystal clear that the government was waging an all out war on the internet. People who create video’s for the wide open internet would wind up being on the front lines. Unsurprisingly, many were caught off guard and most were not well versed with the world of politics. Some had, perhaps naively, believed that if they just appeared before lawmakers, explain their story and explain how the internet works, that lawmakers would find a compromise that not only takes into consideration the large media companies, but also the smaller players as well. The government reaction to this said it all.

In response, the government routinely gaslit creators, told that they were just pushing “misinformation”, stalked online, attacked, intimidated, bullied, and even were the subject of a politically motivated “investigation” intended less to find any wrongdoing, but more as an effort to silence them. A number were accused of being bought and paid for by foreign entities like Google or TikTok even though the source of their concerns were clear. At the end of the day, the government viewed Canadian creators as the enemy and the government would stop at nothing to ensure that they were “defeated” in the process.

Because of that, the messaging was clear. Big government was coming and they were going to mercilessly take it all away – everything that those who innovated online had worked years to build up from planning, strategy, understanding audiences, learning technology, and more.

What’s more, it was clear that this was a lobbyist fuelled effort. Even after the passage of Bill C-11, lobbyists ended up calling for a crackdown on user generated content, not even bothering to hide the true intention. The powers that be wanted their audiences from the 80’s back and rather than innovate to win those audiences back, they felt it more appropriate to work on ruining the careers of those who were getting those audiences. Can’t have audience problems if no one is competing for those audiences, am I right? After killing everyone’s careers, those large players can go back to pushing cheap knock off TV shows like Big Brother Canada, Love it or List It Canada, Family Feud Canada, and a whole pile of other shows people have no interest in watching.

With the government marching in lockstep with the powerful lobbying arm of the cultural elite and large vertically integrated media conglomerates, they ignore all the pleas for sanity and common sense. For the government, the enemy is anyone who dares to innovate in the online environment. The sooner the country can be rid of those evil doers, the sooner life will be a bed of roses in this country. The Canadian government has declared war on its own people, and it isn’t just exclusive to people who make video’s online.

As Bill C-18 works its way through the government process, the next battlefront is online journalism. With lobbyists writing the laws, they have crafted a win win situation for themselves. They are demanding that the platforms be charged merely for linking. At the same time, provisions ensure that smaller players will either get buried in bureaucracy or not qualify at all. As such, funding would get redirected to the traditional outlets. Google and Facebook are already seriously contemplating on dropping news links altogether.

No matter the outcome, Big Publishing wins. If Google and Facebook stay, the large media outlets manage to swallow up a huge financial windfall, ensuring that they don’t even have to bother seeking an audience to remain monstrously profitable. They knew that whether it’s through advertising dollars (because the funding has to come from somewhere) being redirected to their corporate bank accounts or their links being given special treatment, they will put enormous financial pressure on the smaller players to eventually fold. If Google and Facebook drop news links altogether, then big publishing wins. They know most news websites depend on social media campaigns to get those audiences from those two platforms and if they are suddenly cut off from those large platforms, the very lifeblood of those smaller players traffic will also get choked off as well.

While it could wipe out a number of websites, others will still find ways of surviving. That is where the forthcoming “online harms” proposal comes in. By creating regulatory requirements of everyone that are impossible to comply with, any of those pesky stragglers still holding on will get completely nuked from orbit. This as offshore websites get ordered blocked by Canadian ISPs.

Throughout all of this, the governments messaging is crystal clear: if you innovate online, you have two choices: you either find a new career or get out of the country. Either way, you are not welcome in this country, period. There is no bargaining or reasoning with this mentality. The decision is final. Online innovators have become public enemy number one. The demonizing of such creators punctuates this after government officials have painted online video creators as “not art” and online news websites as “not news“, “opinion only”, and not contributors to the journalism ecosystem.

It’s incredibly toxic and extremely corrosive messaging, but one that may have vague roots from the concept of Boomer generation vs newer generations. Indeed, so much media today is heavily focused on getting audiences from the Boomer generation. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that platforms like TikTok have provided a safe space for expression for younger generations. For traditional media organizations, such a safe space for younger generations should really not exist at all. The internet, for the legacy media, was supposed to be this niche thing that would just go away on its own. The fact that it continues to exist is extremely offensive to these organizations. For them, the content is not good, silly, stupid, and even a threat or a danger to society. Society getting rid of this stupid thing called “the internet” is long overdue and it’s something that media organizations have spend more than two decades calling for.

Ultimately, both the internet ecosystem and traditional media ecosystem could easily co-exist peacefully. The problem is that the traditional media outlets are demanding a monopoly of consumers and even a hint of competition, at this point, is intolerable. Offering content that people want to watch is expensive and years of seeking the cheapest content money can buy shows that the media organizations aren’t really in the business of taking significant risks. So by launching a campaign with the powerful government taking their orders, they are trying to ensure that they will be the only ones left standing eventually and business can carry on like in the 80’s when the internet was merely this niche thing.

The situation in Canada is, indeed, awful. The government has declared war on anyone trying to be innovative online. While people in other countries are moving forward with trying to figure out the not so new wave of technology, Canada is seeking to batten down the hatches and attack the internet at its very foundation like it was some kind of disease that needs to be eradicated from the country. It’s sad and devastating and one that will ultimately cost Canadians in the long run. We could have nice things like a Canadian version of Mr. Beast or a Canadian platform like Twitter. However, those who drive innovation online will ultimately be driven out of the country, leaving the ultimate future in the hands of the countries those innovators choose to flee to. Unless something serious is done to reverse this direction, we will be looking at moments like this as a point of reference where everything went wrong in this country for generations to come.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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