Misinformation in Canada | Pro-Russian propaganda comes first from the United States

Of the pro-Russian propaganda that has entered Canada since the start of the war in Ukraine, 56% is spread by American influencers, putting the federal government in an awkward position to uncover. Especially since the country is reluctant to do so.

Posted at 5:00 am

Andre Duchesne

Andre Duchesne
The press

This is the observation of Jean-Christophe Boucher, an assistant professor in the School of Public Policy and the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, following a study of more than 6 million messages published or shared on Twitter.

Launched in November 2021, the analysis aims to map and analyze the conversation in the Canadian Twittersphere around the war in Ukraine.

First observation: 75% of content is “pro-Ukraine” and 25% of tweets and retweets are dedicated to pro-Russian propaganda. In this segment of the 25% of tweets pro-Russian discourse, the American sector speaks out, including commentators from Fox News, for example.

This is a problem for the central government. It’s easy to criticize China or Russia by saying that these countries are trying to influence our public opinion and weaken our democratic regime. But when disinformation comes out of the United States, that’s a different problem.

Jean-Christophe Boucher, University of Calgary

Mr. Boucher also noted that pro-Russian accounts are more active than pro-Ukrainian ones. “If 25% of the conversations came from pro-Russian accounts, they sent 35% of the identified tweets,” he says.

“We developed a tool to rake and collect data on Twitter in real time,” continues the researcher, who receives federal funding. We launched the machine in November. As soon as Russia attacked Ukraine we started collecting data and we are still doing so. »

Some of the actors in the twittosphere create content, while others are content to spread the news (retweet), adds Mr. Boucher.

Who spreads pro-Russian propaganda? We find American influencers, groups close to the services of the Chinese or Russian state (Mr Boucher cites the example of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks), people who are simply convinced. There are also accounts “funded directly by Russian services” that retweet propaganda from their country, he notes.

A law in the making

“Fringe groups spread misinformation and it works,” says Jean-Christophe Boucher. All studies show that social media influences not only the way people consume information, but also their opinions on a range of topics. »

However, the researcher believes “that the Canadian government is catching up on the doldrums on this matter”.

“When we talk about it with our federal interlocutors, they say, ‘We know, but we don’t know what to do with it,'” Mr Boucher continues. How do we combat disinformation when it comes from the United States? The Canadian government currently has no policy structuring the legal ecosystem for disinformation. »

In fact, the government is currently considering drafting a disinformation law and consulting experts. David Morin, a full professor at the University of Sherbrooke’s School of Applied Politics, is one of them.

“Canada is not the only country that is disadvantaged,” he said. The European Union is also trying to catch up. The British are the same [ce que M. Boucher constate aussi]. »

The problem right now is that disinformation per se is not illegal. On the other hand, it becomes so when it is associated with the promotion of violence, the integrity of the electoral process, the promotion of genocide, and so on.

David Morin from the University of Sherbrooke

Mr Morin says the bill will initially focus on harmful online content. “For example, everything to do with child trafficking, terrorism, hate speech and violence, he explains. But the question of misinformation arises because it is very broad. »

Furthermore, he says, one must distinguish what is wrong and therefore reprehensible from what is simply a contrary opinion. “We may not agree with Russian politics, but we live in a democracy. The last thing anyone would want is to remove all pro-Russian content and have only pro-Ukrainian content. The truth would not be better served. »

Distribution platform managers also have a moderating role in combating misinformation, adds Mr. Morin.

The draft law and a summary of the work of the expert committee can be viewed online. We do not know when this project will end up on the order paper in the House of Commons.

Learn more

  • 3 million
    Investment announced by Canada in March 2022 to combat disinformation “related to Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine”.

    SOURCE: Global Affairs Canada

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