Daily life with disinfo


With our federal elections coming up, we’ve good reason to study the use of
disinfo wherever it appears. Europe’s EU elections next month and America’s this
fall give us a year to practise identifying information manipulation in our largely-social media.

According to the experts, professionally-created disinfo from foreign actors is our real threat, rather than local attempts to manipulate public opinion. China’s our current
bugbear, but the experts identify Russia – and the USA – as Canada’s main disinfo sources. Russia, apparently, has invested tremendously in these capabilities. The US uses private actors acting on their own, or, at their most tiresome, working for political
parties and religious organizations, now emboldened by their success with the last Trump presidency and that wildest dream of killing Roe vs. Wade. Canada, at least, accords its religions the respect they need, without turning them into political party add-ons.

We may all feel individually capable of detecting disinfo but consider that Meta claims to have the means to detect political lies and disinfo, labelling them as “political advertising”, yet they are estimated to catch “fewer than 5%” of the deceptive ads and reports they themselves carry, according to The Guardian newspaper’s investigations. If Facebook can’t catch so many blatant lies, how can you and I expect to do better? These manipulators are professionals, well-trained, well-equipped, and determined.

Their disinformation is engineered not to look like “information” at all – for example it spreads rumours of conflict within their targets: if the Liberals are today’s target, then we’ll hear about dissidents and challenges to Trudeau’s leadership. We’ll hear reports of polls putting “the other guys” far in the lead. But most of all we’ll hear doubts and disagreements with the democratic process itself; we’ll hear about vote rigging, voting machine fraud, and especially fake poll results.

The claim that “Canada is broken” is today’s example. Any social problem becomes evidence for this claim. However, doesn’t comparing Canada to any other nation put the lie to this “broken” claim? At worse, doesn’t it mean simply that
governing a massive country on democratic lines is terribly difficult; and what’s “broken” about that?

All to say, finding the real news comes down to each of us. Not what we want to see, but what is the truth today – and “truth” is the planet’s most slippery commodity. Not-caring is no option because it will come back to bite us – and our complaints, then, will all be wasted breath. We allow ourselves to be manipulated, partially, by assuming we know too much to be manipulated. Voting is essential, but old-fashioned digging and study before we vote is still essential.