CBC flees Twitter
If you’re 10 years old and someone says to you: your mamma wears army boots (which was *the* insult for a bit of time) and you feel a wave of shame run from the bottom to the top of your body because your mother *does* wear army boots but like not like that how to do you respond to the insult?
The insulter isn’t talking about the fact that your mother wears these boots, it’s the insinuation that your mother is a bull dyke. And while your mother is not a bull dyke, and you know that there’s nothing wrong with being a bull dyke, she is still a punk and not only does she wear these boots casually, but she loves them. Do you defend your mother? Do you call the verbal attacker a queer-bashing lego eater (remember we are 10 here)? Do you run away lest standing up for your mother and army-boot wearing mothers everywhere gets your glasses smashed?
Regardless of what you do, you’re a kid and it doesn’t really matter. But let’s say that the bully is Elon Musk and you are the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the school yard (an oppressive space that you have no control over) is Twitter. Now what? Do you run?
CBC’s management has weighed into this age-old fable and has chosen to run. They are fleeing Twitter because Twitter slapped a label on one of their many accounts saying that they are government funded. The only account with the label is @CBC — not Radio-Canada, not CBC News … just the corporation’s main corporate account. (And hey folks, there is NO CBC ACCOUNT THAT POPS UP ON SUBSTACK WHEN I TAG IT — a bit late to this game, eh?). Here’s the announcement which will not pop up nicely as a tweet because Musk has also declared war on Substack:
Let’s be clear — the CBC is government funded. They are government funded and they should be proud that they’re government funded. They provide a critical, universal service to Canadians and they should embrace that. Any person who tries to split hairs here and say but they’re a Crown! But They are independent! The money is indirect! etc. is jumping into the trap set by Musk et al. with reckless abandon. If you find yourself doing this, stick to something else because analysis elludes you.
Anyway. The CBC has chosen the easiest option here. Despite being a national, bilingual news service that has the resources to defend itself through its reporting, it has chosen the lowest-risk option: they are “pausing” their participation in Twitter. They are likely unconcerned that it will have much impact on their traffic as people will still share CBC news (hell, this CBC account has as many followers as *I* do) and it’s unlikely that they will insist that journalists also stay away from Twitter. It’s also unlikely that Twitter will notice that a few accounts have gone silent — this has been happening steadily since Musk took over.
But as a protest, CBC’s decision to “pause” their Twitter activity is very silly.
Protest tactics need to leverage power — the power that you have — to attack and undermine the power that your enemy has. And to do this, you need to decide what power Musk actually has over the CBC or CBC’s audience. There is no power in simply leaving. It actually hands Musk exactly what he wants — the formal denunciation of his platform from fleeing mainstream media corporations. More space for the little guys!
Could the corporation have stuck around, declared war on the man and demonstrated in no uncertain terms that they are not a puppet of government?
Maybe, but it would be difficult because aside from the odd investigation (more often than not coming first from Radio-Canada these days), they are not doing the kind of critical reporting on national politics that Canadians need. They far too often toe the line that the political establishment toes (of any colour) and they have, for decades, abandoned any attempt at doing critical analysis. This has been deadly as Canadians can tell that they aren’t getting the whole picture from their national broadcaster, leaving the corporation open to this kind of critique.
Which brings me to the most important part of all of this: this isn’t actually a fight between Elon Musk and the CBC. It’s a fight between the next Prime Minister of Canada and the CBC (maybe not next next, but he will be at some point). CBC’s management forgets that their audience here is us — average people, Twitter users included — and that their main opponent is a political party that will drastically slash its funding if it’s elected.
This puts the CBC into a catch-22 — while they are impartial, one of the main political players wants the corporation to be launched into the sun. If he wins, the corporation loses. How can they be impartial under those circumstances?
Well, they absolutely can be, but it requires that they stop treating Trudeau and Freeland with kid gloves and stop giving Poilievre what he wants. For example, in last night’s article announcing that CBC got the government-funded label, the first person they quote after Twitter was Poilievre.
There is literally no need to give this man what he wants. Poilievre hates the CBC first and foremost because he hates journalists. He doesn’t want to answer their questions. He doesn’t want to have to worry about what the front page of any outlet looks like tomorrow. His goal is to render mainstream media irrelevant so that the fringe, freaky far-right media sphere has more access to the market and fewer people to challenge what they write. And in this battle, CBC is handing him a victory on a silver tweet-shaped platter.
CBC, like so many media corporations, and hell, like me too, have put a lot of stock in Twitter. Though unlike me, they apparently missed the writing on the wall back in November. They put all their stock in Twitter this at the expense of building anything. Imagine that they had created something similar that could have brought Canadians a different kind of newsfeed, paid for by tax dollars?
But instead, Twitter became an integral part of a CBC job. Journalists regularly do call outs for sources on Twitter. They pull a ton of content from Twitter, including embedding tweets in articles. The corporation was happy to outsource their shit to Facebook and Twitter until they realized that these corporations are vultures and will pick apart the news industry until the only thing left is a bunch of bleached bones and half-drank coffee held in mugs scattered across desks.
After throwing in their lot with this platform, and not having anything to turn to when it inevitably went to shit, the corporation now needs to figure out how it’s going to reach as many people as possible — a huge challenge since the modern era of Internet communications, reaching audiences has always been mitigated by these platforms. But let’s be honest: CBC will just shift to other private corporations like LinkedIn or TikTok as if they’re a lowly podcaster just trying to get their content out rather than try to build something that could compete with the Twitters of the world.
No one can say what comes next for Twiter. It’s clear that it’s in decline but for how long and what replaces it is impossible to know. What is obvious to me is this: they can’t ditch out on Twitter in this fight in the way that they have, and avoid the stentch of being a state broadcaster. They should be showing Canadians the value of public broadcasting. They should demonstrate their fearless attempts to hold politicians to power and telling Musk, clearly and boldly to eat shit. This is what the corporation *should* be doing. But they can’t — they have no idea how to be creative, take risks and do journalism differently.
The self-immolation started long ago but rather than reaching for the water, it seems like they have grabbed the accelerant.
Nora Loreto is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.