Avoiding the fake news traps and snares


THERE’S A LOT OF IT GOING AROUND: FAKE NEWS. It’s always bad. During an election it gets even worse.

Last June at least three federal cabinet ministers and multiple other members of Parliament had their Facebook Messenger accounts mimicked by people offering to dole out government grants.

The MPs say the impersonators took profile photos from their Facebook pages and used them to create their own Facebook Messenger accounts which were not linked to any Facebook accounts.

No one could say who was behind the scam. Facebook had no comment when asked if the impersonators were domestic or foreign actors.

Trudeau a target

Fake stories about Justin Trudeau’s immigration policies could live on to impact the Liberal vote in this election.

Multiple false stories posted on the CBTV site last July claim that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is begging leaders of specific countries to send him one million immigrants.

The article claims Trudeau had announced the creation of a new employment and migration program for immigrants.

But the program doesn’t exist.

The fabricated story had been shared about 2,600 times and drew negative reactions from the ultra-right Yellow Vests Canada Facebook group.

Another site called City News — which imitates a local Canadian news site — also published several of these articles. The site seems to be managed by the same person or people who run CBTV.

The registered owner/operators of CBTV and City News are anonymous. The two sites were created several days apart in April this year, and almost immediately started publishing fake stories.

Another false article on the CBTV website claimed that Trudeau “ordered “Parliament to approve visa-free entry” for visitors from certain foreign countries.

In 2017, Radio Canada discovered imposter websites that looked like Quebec media sites but were actually based in Ukraine, and those sites used the same tactic.

Emotions are the tip off

You can’t trust your emotions. If you do, you’re likely to fall for fake news says Taylor Owen, a professor at McGill University and the co-creator of the Digital Democracy Project.

Emotions like anger and fear can lead you astray says Owen and only confirm ideas already embedded in your thinking about particular issues.

In an era where disinformation is readily available and cleverly disguised, Owen cautions people to take a step back when they see inflammatory content—particularly in an election campaign.

Manipulation relies on emotion

Owen points out simple fact checking and providing accurate information is not enough to counter these embedded convictions. He says politicians and journalists need to tell a better story. He says they have to “find ways to tell fact-based stories in ways that engage people."

His research shows the public on Twitter “get it”—that is, what they talk about is what matters to them the most. Politicians and journalists fail to make that link.

Owen is also concerned that what used to be foreign to us is becoming commonplace. “My concern is that domestic actors have learned from what we know the Russian government did in the U.S. election, in the midterms, and now they are using the exact same tools and tactics here to try to seek to divide us.”

Owen says the best way to avoid the fake news trap is to ask yourself: “How does this make me feel.” If the answer is emotional, then you would do well to think twice before swallowing it whole.

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