Big Tech controls the discovery and distribution of Canadian content. What’s a democracy to do?
There are several bills making their way through Parliament right now that will radically alter Canadians’ relationship with the internet and the only consensus opinion about them seems to be that no one is happy.
Putting aside Bill C-27—the privacy bill with the new Artificial Intelligence and Data Act we’ve discussed before—you have Bill C-11, which updates the Broadcasting Act to apply CanCon provisions to the internet, and Bill C-18, an act impacting “online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada.”
And, boy howdy, people are pissed.
“We are in the midst of a new technological payola.”
– Raine Maida
For C-11, you have digital and social creators being told by YouTube and TikTok that the bill will tie their hands and ultimately force a deprioritization of Canadian creator content; you have TV and film creators complaining that the old CanCon laws aren’t that great; and you have everyone wondering to what extent user-generated content is part of the bill, and why.
For C-18, you have small media publications complaining that this is just a payout for traditional, dead tree media—one that’s only going to go into dividend payments for the hedge funds that own them; you have Google ‘testing‘ de-indexing Canadian journalism in search results if the bill goes through (with Facebook threatening to do essentially the same to Canadian news stories on its platform); and then you have BetaKit—which isn’t recognized as a qualified journalism organization, and thus can’t receive any of the benefits under C-18 (or C-30), but still might be ethered from the internet by Google anyway. And yes, Google’s not blocking people from typing betakit.com into their browser, but the company has 90 percent of Canada’s search marketshare, so let’s call a spade a spade.
RELATED: “Canary in the coal mine”: TikTok presentation shows Big Tech’s influence on Bill C-11 debate
Listen, I’m not a fan of these bills; I think they are flawed in myriad ways. But we’re not here to talk about these bills today—that would require a conversation with Minister Pablo Rodriguez, who despite our best attempts, has not been willing to come on the pod.
And while a detailed conversation on these bills and their impact is important, there’s another conversation that’s not happening at all. A conversation this podcast is particularly well suited to having.
One about how Canadian media content intersects with technology; how Canadian governance intersects with technology; and how technology’s capacity to effect change at scale is driven not by some technological decentralized utopia vision of the web, but by the business concerns of the Big Tech companies that run the closed platforms of the internet and intermediate our access to Canadian music, movies, art, and yes, news.
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I get it: some people might not care if they see CanCon or content from around the globe—may the best content win, right? That’s a fair stance.
But we should understand the actual pain points both Canadian and all other creators have with these platforms. We should understand that they’re not technological hurdles; they are the business demands made by Big Tech, who currently hold all the leverage and all the dollars. And we should understand that Big Tech is currently making mob-like threats on a series of fronts because they don’t want to be regulated by our government or any government—which, irrespective of the bills in question, is an attack on our sovereignty.
“Hey there Canada, it would be a shame if your news suddenly disappeared.”
“Sorry creators, we’ll deprioritize you in the algorithm because the Canadian government forced us to show Canadians Canadian creators.”
It’s an extortion racket.
RELATED: Scams And Slime: C-11 And The Future Of CanCon
And yeah, Bill C-18’s plan to have these platforms pay media outlets for links to news doesn’t make sense—it’s a weird payola play. But these platforms have already created their own payola schemes, and they’ve been profiting through them for decades. Google is currently dealing with antitrust investigations for completely owning the web ad market, and Facebook’s algorithm already requires pubs like BetaKit to pay them money to reach the people that have chosen to follow BetaKit on Facebook for news. Hell, even Elon is getting into the “freedom of speech but not reach” game.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google aren’t the only platforms doing this. As you’ll hear on this podcast, Spotify is doing the same with music and podcasts, as is Amazon with books.
So, along with Our Lady Peace frontman Raine Maida and Senator Colin Deacon, we’re having a different conversation.
Can this country regulate CanCon now the way it did in the 90s? Will that help or harm Canadian creators? I honestly don’t know, but we need to start talking about these issues in the right way if there’s any hope for positive change.
So let’s dig in.
Note: if you have feedback for Senator Deacon on Bill C-11 or Bill C-18, you can contact him here.
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The BetaKit Podcast is hosted by Douglas Soltys & Rob Kenedi. Edited by Kattie Laur. Feature image courtesy Our Lady Peace.
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