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  • Writer's pictureTimothy Ellis

Giving Truth A Voice

The mark of a strong democracy is an informed, connected, and engaged public. Today, one of the primary sources of information, and a top destination for people to connect and engage with one another, is social media - and our social media networks are under attack.

If you’ve spent any time online, you've no doubt seen the vitriol, bigotry, and disinformation that spreads almost unchecked. And you've likely also seen the results:

  • Young people growing disaffected and unplugging from the political system, or going the other direction and radicalizing into extremism and bigotry;

  • Friends, neighbours or family members taken in by climate denialism and anti-vaccine delusion, falling down rabbit holes of conspiracy;

  • Real-world actions like like the "freedom convoy" occupation of Ottawa and the recent anti-trans marches across Canada;

  • The shocking election of aspiring autocrat and lifelong criminal, Donald Trump, to the most powerful office on the planet.

These issues are all connected.

Disinformation is a tool used to sow distrust, undermining faith in institutions and making it feel impossible to know what’s true. This leaves people isolated and vulnerable to disenfranchisement or radicalization, and reduces the capacity of the essential institutions of democratic life to maintain their roles in society and keep Canada functioning - all things that benefit authoritarian states.

It also happens to benefit certain powerful actors within Canada - oil and gas companies, right wing extremists, and wealthy billionaires, to name a few.

It works not just by causing people to believe untrue things, but also by prying at pre-existing fractures in society to inflame tension and divide people, and by seeding multiple narratives to make it difficult to find the real story and cause people to give up even trying.

The sources of online disinformation are many, and include:

Taken together, it creates a toxic stew that is polluting the online spaces that have become most people’s primary information source.

And it doesn’t stay online. The information laundering process is simple but effective:

  1. Propaganda accounts gin up a controversy by shouting about this or that - sometimes a real scandal, sometimes misrepresenting something innocuous, sometimes just making things up whole-cloth;

  2. Larger accounts and outlets in the ecosystem pick it up, either intentionally or opportunistically for political gain, while bots and paid trolls leave incendiary comments to spark debate;

  3. Activists and others argue back, fact check it, or comment on how stupid and made up the “controversy is” - and thanks to social media algorithms, this only drives further engagement and visibility for the initial posts;

  4. Reporters see the left and right fighting over something on their feeds and cover the story for their beat as “the latest controversy” - and just like that, everyone is talking about what the propagandists want us to be talking about.

Fighting Back

Knowing how and why it happens is the first step in fighting back. But what’s next? Fact checking is great, but it’s not enough; and thanks to the algorithms that drive social media reach, fact checking can often serve only to amplify the disinformation.

The broad majority of Canadians - those who believe in democracy, who value truth, and who care about each other and the planet - need to build stronger, more interconnected, and more unified networks of their own: a united voice for truth.

That's where we come in.

We’re building a grassroots answer to online disinformation and far-right extremism. Our plan relies in part on proven techniques, and in part on innovative new ideas - and we’ll be testing, measuring, and updating as we go. There are four core “engines” that power our plan:

  • We organize grassroots advocates with social media accounts into a network of digital amplifiers. We’ve seen this model deliver rapid gains in organic reach on social media platforms before. By organizing large groups of people to engage with progressive content, we can ensure that those messages get heard by much wider audiences - including the legacy journalists who deliver that information to the mainstream - and take space from the right-wing echo chamber. This is a direct counter to the Canada Proud/Rebel Media disinformation axis, and builds on the techniques developed in the Not One Seat campaign.

  • We deliver weekly framing updates and key message guides. By having a shared understanding of current discourse, we’ll help deliver coordinated messages across the movement and the online space that can bolster our own narratives and frames, and respond rapidly and effectively to disinformation and right-wing frames. This is analogous to the right wing’s “Drudge Report” that for years drove US media coverage through delivering talking points to conservative outlets.

  • We maintain a rapid media response team to monitor legacy media and large online outlets for disinformation or dishonest, right-wing framing in articles and ads. Once identified, this team is activated to quickly respond, leaving comments correcting the record and connecting with journalists and public editors to insist on corrections. This is loosely based on Indivisible’s “Truth Brigade” in the US.

  • We create our own compelling content to deliver high-quality, accurate, evidence-based information widely to the people who most need to hear it.

Disinformation attacks trust in institutions first; it's analogous to a virus attacking the immune system to better infect the host. That's why the solution has to come from the bottom up, not the top down.

Enough is enough. Get involved today and help reclaim our digital landscape from the disinformation artists.

P.S. Part of our work is reaching people on social media. Simply following our accounts helps us do that work. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and BlueSky (our chosen replacement for Twitter, which we feel is no longer viable for those who care about truth).

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