Election interference is happening in Canada: What you can do to stop it
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Election interference is happening in Canada: What you can do to stop it

[distortion] Adrienne Arsenault:
Distortion is a certaintyand there’s no point declaring
it can’t happen here.It’s already here.[interference]So what are we going
to do about it?About misinformation and those
who would mess with our mindsand elections.[interference]We tapped those who’ve been
tracking the threatto democracies for yearsfor some solid advice
on what to watch for.[interference]Taylor Owen
of McGill Universitystudies the political impact
of digital techthe way a general surveys
an advancing army,and with equal angst.What is different now in 2019?A third of the world
is in an election year.In Canada, what are you seeing
that looks different? The digital and social
infrastructure that we’ve built, theFacebooks,theTwitter,
theGoogleinfrastructure is pretty much the same
as it was two years ago. What’s wrong with this
infrastructure is that it is calibrated for engagement so that the more people
are enraged and engaged and ultimately divided
on these sites, the more they use them,
and the more they post, and the more they share,
which is ultimately good for the platforms and the
business model of the platforms. And that, turns out, is a highly
manipulatable mechanism for political speech.
Right? Which is inherently can divide
us in very clear ways. ♪ [light] Adrienne: Radio Canada’s
Digital JournalistsJeff Yates and Roberto Rochahave poured through raw data
onTwitterand seenclear patterns of fakery
and interference.They call their research
Digital Archaeology,searching keywords and
issues unique to Canada,discovering nefarious accounts
targeting a Canadian audience,always picking at seams
of division.The top tweeted tweet
in English is this: “Canada wants to take unvetted
Muslim refugees”, in quotes,“detained at U.S. airports”.“Breaking:
Canada will not allowsingle Syrian men
to seek refuge”.This is all untrue. “Justin Trudeau
booed at town hall as polls show his horrific
approval ratings”. There seems to be a certain
slant to these tweets. Yeah. And the bottom line of
what it told you was what? Was that the two main topics,
the two main divisive topics that they think that they could
use to divide Canadians are immigration and pipelines.But Iran, Russia,
and Venezuela seemquite active in talking
about Canadian issues. Why would Venezuela
get marred inconversations
about immigration?Well for Venezuela,
we kind of think that their goals aren’t
really political. We think that it’s
just to make money.A lot of the tweets that are
anti-immigration havelinks to web sites
where people link to. They show some very outrageous,
very provocative, probably fake news about it,but there’s a ton
of ads on it, right.People linking it,
people share it. They get ad revenue. But it’s still
damaging because you’re once again amplifying really
negative and outrageous messages on social media,
getting people riled up for essentially falling for fake information just for money,
basically. So Russia doesn’t
need the money. This is not some kid sitting
in St. Petersburg trying to make a few
extra rubles here. What’s happening there? Well in Russia,
a lot of these were traced back
to this troll farm, very famous troll farm that,
you know, made the news, even got indicted
by American prosecutors, the Internet Research Agency. These analysts believed
that their role was really to sow division
among Americans.So what the trolls are really
good at finding arethe main points of division
in a society, right.They’re quite
good at studyinga country’s internal debates,
their political landscape. So they spend a lot of time
trying to find the fissures. Like the default lines. And you can compare it to, let’s say you like run your
finger over like a piece of fine
china, right, and find that one little
crack, it could be very small, but then they dig in,
they dig in, they dig in, they dig in, and they start
increasing the division. But if they’re digging
and digging and digging, it’ll fall apart. That is probably what
they’re hoping to do, and it’s up to us to be aware
of this and not let them. OK, so does that
then sound like 2017 was maybe a dry run for
this election period? That’s possible. People are still
manipulatable by using polarizing topics online.
So could it happen here? Yes it could. [traffic din] Adrienne:Eyes need to be
wide open now becausewhatever the motivation,misleading information
can be cleverly disguised.That’s certainly the case
with the online news siteThe Buffalo Chronicle
out of Buffalo, New York.A quick glance
and it seems legitimate,mostly American focused,
truth to many of the stories,and recently the site has beendipping into Canadian
stories and scandals,even seems to get scoops.But there are significant
flaws and falsehoods.We tried getting in touch withsomeone connected with the
site, even went to Buffaloin search of its location.You might think
that wouldn’t be hard.SoThe Buffalo Chronicle
lists its address as being 610 Ellicott Street
in Buffalo, New York. Well, the problem with that is
the five hundred block ends right at this intersection. The building down there is 640, so if 610 were to exist,
it would be right here. But this building has been
abandoned for years. Adrienne.
Hi there.
Alan Bedenko. Really nice
to meet you.
Pleased to
meet you. Adrienne:Alan Bedenko
is a Buffalolawyer who also writes
on politics.He says he knows all about
The Buffalo Chronicleand its publisher.These are subjects
that make him wince.He doesn’t identify the sources, doesn’t identify
where they came from, what their credentials are, what authority
they have to comment, or even how they know
the information. You’ve marked this up like
a high school teacher. I have because it’s — well,
it offends me stylistically and it offends me substantively.It offends me stylistically
because it’s poorly written.But, you know, here it’s“Among Toronto area political
operatives it’s been rumoured“that Iaccobucci may be one of
three men in possessionof embarrassing information
on Trudeau”.And I just — it’s garbage. What rumours? From where?
What are the sources? What is the nature of the
embarrassing information? Personally embarrassing?
Politically embarrassing? Why put that there if you’re not going to
pull the trigger on it? ♪ [dramatic] Adrienne:
None of this might matterif it weren’t for the realitythat some of these
Buffalo Chroniclestorieshave gained traction in Canada.And lots of people have been
entrapped by this, right? Yes. So if we look at
the latest one, this was the
most popular. So we can see here
who shared it online. So you can see it was shared
1,900 times and generated, you know,
7,400 interactions. So that’s likes,
comments, and shares. So who have we got here?
We’ve got Trudeau Follies. Yellow Vest Canada,National Conservative
News Network,The Buffalo Chronicle
shared it, of course. Doug Ford for
Premier of Ontario. So basically most of these
people were roped in. Adrienne:Lots and lots
of yellow vest.So you have political
commentator Warren Kinsella
shared it. He actually corrected the
information later. He said, “OK, this
is a bogus site”. So, once again,
if you’re going quickly, this might look legitimate
if you’re not asking yourself
the right questions. But if you take
a couple seconds to actually think
critically about this, it doesn’t stack up,
it doesn’t make sense. Adrienne:So who’s
behind it and why?We finally reached the editor.We’re arranging
for an interviewwhen a supposed contract
arrived with demands.That the interview be live,
unedited,with lighting being 20 per cent
softer than is typical,and a prohibition on certain
words including“fabricated”, “fictitious”,
“forged”,“fraudulent”, “phony”, “sham”,
“crook”, “culprit”…It went on and on.There was a threat of a quarter
of a million dollar feeif the contract was breached.We said no thanks.Craig Silverman ofBuzzFeed
was one of thefirst journalists to recognize
fake news masqueradingas the real thing.And he’s come to realize thatjust pointing out
the falsehoodsdoesn’t tend to erase them
from people’s minds.Somehow they stick,
even if they’re untrue.It takes effort to track
these things down. It’s easier to just
sort of look at it, and even if you don’t
necessarily decide that’s true, it still becomes part of the
furniture of yourself up there and over time as, you know,
we read similar things and are exposed to the same information,
just the fact that we’re familiar
with it makes us more likely to think
that it’s true. Do readers and viewers respond
well to being told that’s fake,or is there a
little bit ofpushback, because people
are maybe made to feel like they’ve fallen
for something? Nobody likes to be told that the thing you shared,
you believed, is fake. It’s embarrassing, and it also may go against
some deeply held beliefs that that piece of information
aligned with. And so we absolutely see
people giving us blowback when we say, “Listen,
that’s actually not true”. They don’t really
want to hear it. ♪ ♪ Adrienne:Part of what
plants seeds of doubtsin a voter’s mind, that
salacious informationmight be true, even when
told it’s not,is the bombardment
of falsehoods.Once you engage with it,
more shows up.The algorithms on social media
platforms make it so.And the more the posts trigger
anger within you,the more they spread.Anger is like internet
wildfire.The most vulnerable platform
is, of course, the biggest.The behemothFacebook.Roger McNamee was
an earlyFacebookinvestor and adviser
to Mark Zuckerberg.Now he’s a forceful critic,certainly was outspoken at
recent parliamentary hearingson data and the implications
of its misuse.At the end of the day though, the most effective path
to reform would be to shut down
the platforms, at least temporarily,
as Sri Lanka did. Any country can go first. The platforms have
left you no choice. The time has come
to call their bluff. They didn’t take
that seriously. Isn’tFacebooka bit
too big to pull? You can’t pullFacebook
off a shelf, can you? No, but they could
easily have made changes in their business
model so that sociologically inappropriate
content does not get promoted. You see the problem
withFacebook,people think about it like
a freedom of speech issue. You know, you can’t
censor speech. That’s not what
I’m talking about. I’m talking about the fact
that their algorithms amplify the most negative
voices, and they do it because the business model is based on
predicting human behaviour. The fundamental underlying
problem withFacebook,withGoogleandYouTube,
withInstagramis that their
business model depends on exposing
the worst in each of us. ♪ ♪ Adrienne:It would be wrong to
sayFacebookjust doesn’t care.It’s well aware of the
criticisms, at timeshas tried to stem
the tide of lies.Craig Silverman had early
exchanges with the companywhen he was sounding the alarm
about the U.S.election and falsehoods
back in 2015.In 2015 I was running a research
project tracking online rumours, and I warnedFacebook
that I was seeing 100 per cent false stories
created by people to make moneygoing really viral
on their platform,and what they were hoping was
I had some kind of a program, computer programming or machine
learning solution to say, “Yes, in our research project
we’ve been able to identify them at a very high rate and here’s
all you would have to do”. They want to be able to put
something into their systems, program it in so that
it can scale out to the 2.7 billion people
that are on the platform. But a journalist working manually was not
of interest to them. ♪ ♪ Adrienne:It’s possible then
that we’re on our own.These platforms can’t
or won’t fix this for us.Maybe it takes being aware
that where there’s tension,there’s emotion, which is
likely to make us reactbefore we really question
if we’re being played.So that’s
the emotion, as a news consumer, you need
to watch for is anger. Not inspiration, not hope. Not things that make you happy,
but it’s — or even sad. It’s when
you’re angry. That’s the red flag that
there might be something up. So in an election, the anger
mechanism is the most powerful because we know that anger is
the most motivating emotion. Now, if you
see something, you also need to question things that confirm exactly
your view of the world. If I am also seeing
things that reinforce what I know
are my biases, that clearly show that my
view is absolutely correct, then that is also probably
being provided to me by someone who wants
to torque my emotion. I worry most about
the anger one though, because I think, particular
with the foreign actors that are trying to
delegitimize democracy, the most effective way of
delegitimizing a democracy is to make the election
itself seem illegitimate. To make the other side
seem illegitimate, and anger is a very effective
tool to do that. ♪ ♪ Adrienne:The best advice?
Don’t let it happen.Ask questions, demand answers,
check sources.Like it or not,
it’s on us.[no audio]

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