The dismantling of Twitter over the past six weeks has been incredibly distressing for millions of users who have come to rely on the platform. From the mass layoffs to journalist suspensions to this weekend’s seemingly short-lived policy blocking some links to rival services, it has been a head-spinning stretch since Elon Musk assumed ownership of the service in late October. In response, many have established a presence on various alternatives: you can now also find me on Mastodon, Post, and Substack. As Twitter users promote these alternatives, on Sunday the company briefly unveiled a new policy that involved removing “accounts created solely for the purpose of promoting other social platforms and content that contains links or usernames for the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribel, Nostr and Post.” From an operational perspective, this would have meant blocking some links to rival platforms big (Facebook, IG), growing (Mastodon), and small (Post).
The Law Bytes Podcast, Episode 151: The Year in Canadian Digital Law and Policy and What Lies Ahead in 2023
Canadian digital law and policy in 2022 was marked by legislative battles over Bills C-11 and C-18, the Rogers outage, stalled privacy and AI reform, copyright term extension, and a growing trade battle with the U.S. over Canadian policies. For this final Law Bytes podcast of 2022, I go solo without a guest to talk about the most significant trends and developments in Canadian digital policy from the past year and to think a bit about what may lie ahead in 2023.
The Bill C-18 Fallout: Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner Equates Linking to News Articles on Facebook to Theft
Last month, Liberal MP Lisa Hepfner shocked Canadian online news outlets by stating that “they’re not news.They’re not gathering news. They’re publishing opinion only.” The comments sparked instant criticism from news outlets across the country, leading Hepfner to issue a quick apology. In the aftermath of the comments, Hepfner said nothing for weeks at Heritage committee studying Bill C-18. That bill passed third reading yesterday – I posted on the embarrassing legislative review – and Hepfner was back at it. Rather than criticizing online news outlets, this time she targeted the Internet platforms, saying the bill would make it “harder for big digital platforms like Facebook and Google to steal local journalists’ articles and repost them without credit.”
Shakedown Complete: The Story Behind Bill C-18’s Shameful Legislative Review Process and the Race to Mandate Payment for Links
Later today, the House of Commons will vote to approve Bill C-18, the Online News Act, sending it to the Senate just prior to breaking for the holidays. While Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez and media lobbyists will no doubt celebrate the milestone, it should not go unremarked that the legislative process for this bill has been an utter embarrassment with an already bad bill made far worse. The government cut off debate at second reading, actively excluded dozens of potential witnesses, expanded the bill to hundreds of broadcasters that may not even produce news, denigrated online news services as “not real news”, and shrugged off violations of international copyright law. All the while, it acknowledged that mandated payments for links are the foundation of the bill with officials stating that individual Facebook posts accompanied by a link to a news story would be caught by the law. As for the purported financial benefits, the government’s own estimates are less than half those of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, who also concluded that more than 75% of the revenues will go to broadcasters such as Bell, Rogers, and the CBC. The end result is a bill that will undermine competition and pose a threat to freedom of expression, while potentially leading Facebook to block news sharing in Canada and Google to cancel dozens of existing agreements with Canadian news outlets.
The Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications completed its extensive review of Bill C-11 last week. After a review for grammatical, editorial, and translation issues, the committee is expected to finalize its report back to the Senate later today. While the next steps for Bill C-11 remain somewhat uncertain, the committee should be congratulated for providing a model for legislative review. Indeed, the Senate committee was everything the House committee was not: policy focused, open to hearing from a wide range of witnesses, and willing to engage in meaningful debate on potential amendments. Politics occasionally arose during the clause-by-clause review, but political considerations were never going to be entirely stripped from a highly politicized piece of legislation.
I may have missed the odd change, but the following amendments were approved by the committee: