The writ was dropped last week, which means the next federal election is just more than four weeks away, and that Canadians will be faced with a deluge of ads and information during the next month or so.
Amid the cacophony of the election campaign and the sea of digital sources brought to us courtesy of the internet, please, for the love of god, ensure that you are informing yourself with information from actual, verified news sources.
Among the myriad benefits and conveniences the internet has bestowed upon us are a number of very dark corners and troublesome trends. One of the most troublesome is a widespread and increasing murkiness when it comes to what is true; the proliferation of so-called “fake news.”
There are a number of organizations that masquerade as newspapers, but which are not newspapers, which intentionally distort information in order to try to influence the way we vote. There are organizations that specialize in trying to win elections via the internet, via Facebook in particular, creating the political memes that have regrettably become part of electoral discourse in this country. These organizations exist on both ends of the political spectrum.
For anyone who may be unaware, a “meme” is just a picture with text imposed on it. Most seven-year-olds can make one at this point in time. Political memes often include the image of the targeted politician, along with a brief statement that may or may not be true. Often it’s the latter, or the information is at least incomplete or doctored in some way.
Memes are designed to evoke knee-jerk, emotional responses and reinforce already established viewpoints as true. There are many Canadians who have negative feelings toward the Trudeau family, for instance. If you’re one of those people and you see a meme with a picture of Justin Trudeau that reads, “Justin Trudeau poisons kittens,” you might be inclined to share that meme on your Facebook page, even though you have no idea whether Justin Trudeau actually poisons kittens or not.
That’s how memes work. They’re junk. They’re spam, and they are contributing to information illiteracy in this country.
A poll conducted by the Canadian Journalism Foundation earlier this year found that 40 per cent of 2,300 respondents struggled to differentiate between fact-based news writing and stories that had been made up. That’s scary, folks.
We already live in a time where politicians don’t answer questions directly, but instead recite approved talking points, and where political parties very intentionally use misinformation to persuade voters. To have that compounded by a population that struggles to differentiate between what is real and what isn’t is a terrifying prospect.
So, this election, please ensure you’re getting the information you need to vote from actual news sources, ones with staffs of researchers, writers and editors who are trained to verify the information they are delivering to you. Please read real news.