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Protecting us from Fake News

February 13, 2019

The Federal Government has announced plans (well, plans to make plans) to protect Canadians from fake news designed to influence our votes on election day. And it's about time.

The government has rightly condemned those who spew disinformation, character attacks, innuendo, deceit, and outright lies. These faceless manipulators of misinformation, these anonymous hustlers of hate, these shadowy purveyors of propaganda, are a mortal threat to our democratic way of life. So says the government, determined to put an end to it, to ensure that Canadians receive only the truth, the light of veracity.

I would love to applaud their dedication to probity. Except …

Those merchants of malice aren't the faceless, anonymous, shadowy foreign devils conjured up by our political leaders, they are out in the open. Do you want to know who they are? Just scan the benches the next time the news shows Parliamentarians shouting insults at one another across the floor. These doyens of deceit are none other than our political leaders and their acolytes. We could force them to come clean. We could demand election campaigns in which all candidates honoured the truth, made honest commitments, and treated one another with respect. Or we could take our chances on a lottery ticket. Better odds.

Part of me suspects that the government wants to shut down the dissemination of fake news from foreign sources because it hates competition. And part of me is angry at the implication that I and other Canadians are too stupid to recognize deceit. It's easy to spot. It's sound issuing from a political leader's mouth. More generally, it's information that is just not credible.

A simple example. During the last US presidential election, I saw at least two postings a day on Twitter under the hashtag, #Parkinsons, that claimed Hillary Clinton had the disease. Of course, that's nonsense, and had I been more curious, I would have checked out other disease forums. I'm willing to bet that, according to social media postings, she had Alzheimer's, MS, ALS, and probably halitosis.

Now the question is, did these idiocies influence the vote? It's hard to see how. Would a Clinton supporter think, "We can't have someone with [disease] in the White House so I'm going to vote for Trump"? Would a Trump supporter think, "Oh no, I'll vote for the poor woman out of sympathy"? Would an undecided voter—who wants to evaluate policies before making a decision—think, "Well that does it for me"? I suppose there may be a few slack-brained types who might be influenced, but to conclude that this nonsense would swing an election does a grave insult to the average voter.

Besides, if we prohibit fake news, even assuming that's possible, we would deprive the losers in an election of an excuse for a fumbled campaign. I say leave it alone.