social media  - by Shea Angus

One of the most critical tools needed to encourage freedom and democracy across the world is a free and open internet. That’s why the latest push by the Chinese Communist Party to regulate user (read citizen) created content, including YouTube videos, Facebook posts, Instagram content, podcasts, and more, is such a threat to the freedom and democracy of the Chinese people.

Whoops. Did I say the Chinese Communist Party? I meant the Canadian Liberal Party, that was my mistake. Such laws actually already exist in China, a country which the Prime Minister has “a level of admiration” due to how "Their basic dictatorship is actually allowing them to turn their economy around on a dime." Who knew that the Prime Minister would also find inspiration from how China controls the internet within their own country.

Now you may be already dismissing this piece as hyperbole, or dramatic, but the thing is, I’m not kidding. It’s true that the Chinese laws go beyond Bill C-10, but if passed as currently written, “Canadians would be subjected to the most regulated internet in the free world,” according to the National Post.

Even other media outlets are sounding the alarm about these changes:

“Your free speech is at risk with Ottawa's push to regulate online content, experts warn” -CBC News

“New broadcasting bill could regulate all your Facebook, Instagram and YouTube posts, experts say” -Global News

“Trudeau’s plan for the Internet: More patriotic propaganda, less choice for users” -Washington Post

“'Full-blown assault' on free expression: Inside the comprehensive Liberal bill to regulate the internet” -National Post

“Uploads to social media could be regulated under proposed changes to Canada’s broadcasting law” -The Toronto Star

When talking about this Bill, the Liberals are talking about how it’s intended to force companies like Netflix to abide by CRTC rules, but for some reason a clause that exempted user-generated content on social media from regulation was pulled from the bill.

Peter Menzies, who is a former CRTC commissioner, said in an interview that Bill C-10 “doesn’t just infringe on free expression, it constitutes a full-blown assault upon it and, through it, the foundations of democracy.”

So what could this look like in practice? Well the CRTC would be gifted sweeping new powers with no clearly defined limitations and it would require that Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and others, ensure that user generated content met current CRTC standards. This means we would not be able to access the same content available to everyone else, as the Government would be dictating what content we can post, what content we can see, and it would elevate certain creators over others.

How would these tech companies respond though? Is it realistic to expect these companies to cater to these new rules, or would they simply block Canadians from their platforms? Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa professor and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law has been an outspoken critic of Bill C-10. In one of his blog posts earlier this year, Geist looked to Australia to consider the potential unintended impacts of Bill C-10. The Australian government presented Google and Facebook with an ultimatum: if the companies wanted to continue to allow users to link to news articles, they would be required to compensate news organizations. In response, Facebook blocked the ability to share Australian news articles on their platform.

Forcing companies to ensure that user generated content posted on their platforms met CRTC rules would be an astronomical undertaking and cost these platforms millions to do. As an example, over 30,000 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube per hour. It’s not unreasonable to assume the companies would cut their losses at that point. Even Google (who owns YouTube), told the National Post in a statement, “we remain concerned about the unintended consequences, particularly with regards to the potential effects on Canadians’ expressive rights.”

The most vital part of any democracy is a free and informed public and yet time and again, this Liberal government has sought to exercise control over how we get our information and who we can get it from. This is the same Government that just last year, flirted with the idea of requiring media to be licensed by the Federal government. With the NDP stating they’re open to supporting Bill C-10, it’s critical that we continue to make our voices heard...while we still can.