OTTAWA — The Liberal government will direct the CRTC not to regulate content from social media users as it implements the controversial Online Streaming Act.
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Content made by social media creators, and content that is only available on social media platforms, will be excluded under the proposed policy direction to the regulator.
“The proposed directions … deliver on public commitments by the Government to ensure that the Commission would only regulate social media platforms insofar as they are acting like broadcasters and not the social media elements of their services, which include any content created and uploaded by everyday users (commonly known as user-generated content),” the government said in documents made available to media.
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Controversy over the regulatory authority the CRTC would have over user-generated content — such as YouTube or TikTok videos posted by Canadians or digital creators — has followed the bill for two years. The Liberal government refused to exclude social media in Bill C-11 itself. Opponents maintained it was important to set the exclusion in law, for reasons including that considering future governments can reverse a policy direction to the CRTC more easily than they can change a law.
The Online Streaming Act became law just over a month ago. It sets up the CRTC to bring streaming platforms like Netflix and YouTube into the Canadian content system that traditional broadcasters and TV providers already contribute to, ensuring more funding for the creation of Canadian content.
The law itself limits the CRTC’s powers over user content to “discoverability” — directing digital platforms to showcase more Canadian content in the movies, TV shows and music they recommend to their users. The social media exclusion in the policy direction would mean those provisions wouldn’t apply to user posts on YouTube, for example, a prospect digital creators who depend on those platforms raised alarm about.
But discoverability powers would apply to content on other streaming platforms like Netflix or Disney+. The government said it would tell the CRTC to implement the “discoverability requirements in a way that minimizes the need to alter algorithms of broadcasting undertakings and that, where possible, increases choice for users.”
Senior officials said in a technical briefing that an element of the policy direction acknowledges the CRTC could use its discoverability powers in a way that would lead platforms to alter their algorithms, and the idea is to minimize those cases.
The CRTC can’t tell a streaming service like Amazon Prime or Spotify to make specific changes to its algorithms. But it can say that they need to include more Canadian content in their recommendations or suggestions, which would require them change the algorithms that create those recommendations.
The CRTC will also be told to make redefining Canadian content a priority. That process would include “consulting with Canadians, members of the creative and production sectors and other interested parties.”
The government will hold a 45-day consultation on the draft policy direction before issuing a final version.