What is User-generated Content?

In Canada, bill C-10 is generating controversy. I don't have an opinion, mostly because it is not clear to me what it regulates. I suspect that ambiguity about what constitutes user-generated content is driving a lot of the controversy. Discussion is hampered by a category error.

First, people use the term "user-generated content" to mean the tweets, posts, and blogs created by individuals. Unfortunately, the phrase also often means the feeds provided by social media companies. For the record, I believe that feeds are as much user-generated content as the song "Pop Culture" is sung by Madonna. User generated content deserves full protection of free speech, but feeds need some guardrails.

A forest is more than the trees. A beach is more than the grains of sand. And a feed is more than the user-generated content.

I suspect that the ambiguity between user-generated content and feeds is deliberate. The confusion provides cover that many companies are using to shield themselves from regulation. Social media companies are not passively transmitting users' content, they are actively shaping discussions by selecting content to promote or bury. Just because they are building those feeds out of bits of user-generated content does not mean they should not be responsible for their authorship/curation of the feed.

For the record, I don't see a requirement that Facebook ensures a minimum Canadian content in your feed as any more egregious than similar requirements on television and radio. Whether or not that is a good idea is a separate question. Either way, it isn't an attack on free speech, but I'm sure many social media companies would like you to believe it is.

To evaluate bill C-10, or just to discuss media in the 21st century, we need to separate user-generated content from the feeds. Confusing these distinct things is a category error.

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