arming ourselves

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a recent issue on misinformation and disinformation in Canada. Here are some of the highlights.

Disinformation: New tools, same poison

Before it was called public relations, it was called propaganda. Many of the people who built the modern PR industry got their start in the Committee on Public Information, the propaganda arm of the American government, which aimed to sell the deeply unpopular First World War to the American public. Among other tactics, the CPI pioneered the use of what we would now recognize as “influencers” in a program called the “four-minute men” in which they recruited community leaders to show up to parties, silent film screenings, and community events to give short speeches in favour of the war … While the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses,” as Edward Bernays put it, used to be the confines of a small number of powerful individuals, that is no longer the case. Such tactics—which have always been used to foment violence, as seen in their origins in WWI—are now widely accessible through tech companies … From John D. Rockefeller to Donald Trump, disinformation has always been a tool the powerful use to protect themselves. The tactics may have changed, but the poison remains the same. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

Canada can’t be complacent about threats to our democracy

Even more worrying, populist communication from mainstream political actors is becoming more commonplace and there seems to be an increasing willingness by the Conservative Party of Canada and its newly minted leader, Pierre Poilievre, to peddle misinformation. Poilievre has falsely accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of planning to tax pickup trucks as well as claiming that the Trudeau government would be banning nitrogen-based fertilizers for agricultural purposes … Poilievre is not alone in providing a platform to conspiracy theories. In a 30-minute live broadcast on Facebook earlier this spring, then-leadership candidate and now the Government Critic for Infrastructure and Communities, Leslyn Lewis, alleged that Prime Minister Trudeau was entering Canada into an international pandemic treaty governed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that would restrict Canadians’ travel and medication choices, suspend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would ultimately pave the way for a global government.

Additionally, both Poilievre and People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier have singled out journalists by name and journalistic outlet, further contributing to Canadians’ growing distrust in the mainstream media. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

They came to my city

In my community of Peterborough, there have been ongoing protests since 2020. These protests ostensibly started in response to public health related “lockdowns” and “mandates” but have continued even after these government policies were lifted. In a discussion between members on a local anti-vaxx Facebook group, someone commented: “we want to keep protesting, but the mandates have been lifted, so what should we protest now lol” [sic]. Such comments indicate a rampant opposition to democratically elected governments and a proliferation of general misinformation … The far-right nationalists behind the various “events” appear to be seeking notoriety and recognition, and nothing more. Misinformation through ignorance, and disinformation through malice, will continue to plague our communities and country until there are meaningful repercussions for the perpetrators. A lack of informed, educated, civil discourse in any society is a death knell to democracy and social cohesion. No longer can we ignore the deeply embedded problems in our society; the problematic behaviours—such as hurling abuse at elected officials and public servants—that continue to escalate. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

Progressive politics and the age of misinformation

Progressive leaders must now craft narratives that say, “yes we recognize the way mainstream institutions, whether government or the media are failing you, but we also still need these things, so here is our plan for how to revitalize them.”

Balancing a righteous anger at the imperfections of our system with a hopeful call to still engage is not an easy feat, but it has to be done … Probably it’s fair to say that in the face of uncertainty the best thing to do is to try and test as many approaches as possible. The work won’t be easy. But the alternative is accepting a ‘post-Truth’ society. A new age of misinformation where rage and polarization will only increase. An age where building cross-sectoral coalitions that can deliver meaningful progressive change will become increasingly elusive.

To avoid that, there is no option but to tackle the rise and origins of misinformation head on. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

Bots, trolls, deception and the hacking of the human brain

A hashtag like #TrudeauMustGo, for example, has been routinely amplified by adversarial actors and is meant to form an identity marker for an “in” group. But its use is also meant to form a subconscious cue in both the “us” group and the “them” groups, thus exploiting social cognition.

While bots may have been used to trend hashtags like this, getting authentic users to do the same is the goal. As the entrenchment of the echo chambers around drivers of hashtags like #TrudeauMustGo increases, so, too, does the real-world hate and ultimately, the real-world death threats.

Adversarial actors both exploit and hack the social cognition that results from the messaging and feedback loops in these echo chambers … By giving the impression that many others feel the same way and believe the same things, it has a powerful effect on human psychology. In other words, it’s a system designed to hack human psychology and hijack the emotional response system of the brain, to give people a sense that they are right, they are supported and that they belong. —The Monitor 2023-01-05

Further reading on this blog

there is a crack in everything

algorithmic amplification

debunking handbook

countering populism

McLuhan's laws of media applied to politics in the network era

2 Responses to “arming ourselves”

  1. Tammy Green

    Chris Hedges has a lengthy chapter on the Works Progress Administration and use of writers/artists to sell WWI in his book, Death of the Liberal Class. Worth reading.


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