Discover our digital culture

The report of the Advisory Committee on the discoverability of cultural content presented on January 31 to the Minister of Culture, Mathieu Lacombe, identifies avenues to ensure Quebec cultural sovereignty in an environment dominated by large international platforms. “These are exerting unprecedented pressure on culture here and elsewhere,” notes the report.

The digital universe is global. To achieve results, government actions must be concerted. Experts Louise Beaudoin, Clément Duhaime, Véronique Guèvremont and Patrick Taillon are right to recall the essential nature of cooperation between all government authorities. They recommend increasing efforts on the international scene and intensifying relations with the federal government in order to counter the risks posed by digital transformations for the diversity and discoverability of cultural content.

By emphasizing the “necessary cooperation” with federal authorities, the report recalls the importance of the benefits that we must hope for from the implementation of recent federal laws. For example, Bill C-11 imposes obligations on broadcast platforms with regard to the creation, production and promotion of Canadian music and series and films.

But realism requires us to keep in mind that the results that will result from these laws are largely dependent on the determination of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to apply them. In the past, the CRTC has not always been enthusiastic about imposing requirements for Canadian and French-speaking presence in digital spaces. Above all, we cannot ignore the possibility that federal power will one day be held by leaders hostile to imposing diversity and discoverability requirements on online platforms. Quebec must therefore use all its margins to guarantee the effective presence and discoverability of French-speaking creations from here and elsewhere.

The report recalls that digital technology is not “an enclave sheltered from the laws. » What falls under Quebec’s jurisdiction in the real world is also in the virtual world. For example, a bookstore that sells books online to people here must comply with Quebec laws.

Laws to modernize

The advisory committee notes the gap between the laws governing the media, book companies, archives, cinema and the issues arising from digital practices. He recommends adapting them to changing cultural practices. One of these laws dates from the 19the century !

Ensuring cultural sovereignty involves at least including, in Quebec laws, obligations to configure platforms in order to guarantee our right to find and enjoy the works of our creators. The report proposes inserting statements proclaiming that “culture is a common good” and that “any person who ordinarily offers cultural works to the public must, including in the digital environment, reasonably ensure access and discoverability of the cultural content of original expression in the French language”.

Discoverability is a crucial issue in the current context of large online platforms. But the laws must reflect the major structural changes that digital technology brings about in the ability to capture and promote attention. This is why the report could have gone much further and recommended that freedom of expression and the right to information, already enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Rights, be strengthened to protect freedom of attention.

Indeed, in digital worlds, practices of promoting attention are at the heart of the issues of discoverability and financing of creative activities. In these connected environments, data of all kinds circulates. These are analyzed, among other things, by means of artificial intelligence (AI), in order to measure the attention of individuals. They are valued, in particular through the sale of targeted advertising. They power devices like algorithms and AI, which determine what is offered to us on online platforms.

Valuing attention is at the heart of financing activities taking place in digital worlds. In a world where digital data plays such a crucial role, the defense of sovereignty involves imposing conditions on companies that derive income from their valorization. This is where laws must intervene to ensure the long-term effectiveness of production reinvestment and discoverability requirements.

Platforms are environments where it is possible to find all kinds of content. They are in a monopoly position on the ability to transform the attention of individuals and audiences online into revenue. To ensure discoverability, Quebec laws must impose obligations regarding the processes by which platforms measure attention and determine what is available and offered to the user. This requires imposing requirements on devices that enhance attention, such as algorithms and AI processes. This is how we must complete the guarantees of expressive freedoms enshrined in Quebec laws by affirming the right of individuals to freedom and integrity of their attention.

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