Something doesn’t add up

Admittedly, technology companies have remained relatively quiet on the issue of Bill C-10. A quick search of the federal Registry of Lobbyists reveals that Google did not register on the broadcasting issue until April 1st, and with the notable exception of Netflix, these companies did not provide verbal testimony at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage’s meetings to study C-10.

However, it is far from ‘lunacy’ to suggest that these companies are both sophisticated actors and deeply concerned, not only about Bill C-10 in the Canadian context, but of the ramifications it may have for them globally. Technology companies have a long and well documented history of actively influencing public opinion for the purpose of avoiding government oversight through indirect means, while remaining silent on the issues themselves. The New York Times article that I cited yesterday is just a recent example of this, but there are plenty of reports going back decades (at least as far back as the Microsoft anti-trust case). Although the technology companies themselves have been rather quiet on C-10, it would be naive to assume they are not deeply concerned about it and the potential risk of it creating an international precedent.

It is therefore reasonable, even logical, to assume that in the case of C-10, these companies are likely acting in their best commercial interests, using variations of the methods that have worked for them before. Simply labelling this inference as ‘plainly wrong’ and ‘misinformation’ is not a very strong counter-argument.

Summarizing the central issue in an audio interview about Bill C-10 with the Toronto Star, Dr. Emily Laidlaw states:

“there are problems with … the way that Big Tech has disrupted everything about how our world operates. And the internet is maturing, and we need to regulate that, but the other side is that we need to regulate it in a thoughtful way.”

[Find this quote here, at roughly the -12:15 mark]

To be sure, there are serious concerns with how C-10 was conceived and drafted. For starters, it is a false dichotomy to consider self-regulation or heavy-handed regulation as the only available options, and a far better balance likely could have been achieved with more (any?) public consultation prior to drafting the bill in the first place. And yet, something is amiss in the public debate that has exploded around this bill.

Given that freedom of expression in the age of computational algorithms and surveillance capitalism is one of the hottest topics today in both academia and public discourse, how is it that all of the ‘experts’ cited by the articles appearing in social media feeds are defending social media companies in the name of ‘open space’ and ‘free speech?’

Given the sheer volume of academic work published on the topic of big technology companies as the ‘new governors’ of online speech, and their role in creating a culture of epistemic chaos, I find this odd.

Something doesn’t add up.

Democracy requires open debate, but this is not a real debate when it is so obviously one-sided.

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