Popular opinion is that fake news and distrust of the mainstream media was mostly a problem during the 2016 US election and the ill-fated Brexit vote in the UK. However, before either of these things happened, we actually saw anti-news sentiment in small pockets of Canadian social media chatter. During our last election in 2015 people were beginning to use the hashtag #CdnMedia to criticize mainstream media sources and accuse journalists of working for the Liberal government. As we enter another election year, we may want to learn from what happened before, as I suspect this type of chatter will only become a bigger player in 2019.
My research into how Twitter helped (or hindered) the spread of local news during our last election, led me to a surprising finding. Now published in IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, I found that the use of the hashtag #CdnMedia in 8 smaller Canadian communities (under served by conventional offline media outlets) was often associated with claims that larger media outlets were biased in favor of the liberal party, or claims that the larger or more established media outlets were spreading false information (or fake news). #CdnMedia was also associated with the use of another hashtag #MediaParty, which was often leveled squarely at the CBC. In this discourse, the CBC was accused as being a mouthpiece for the liberal party, and also was accused of taking “bribes” from the government since the liberal government was campaigning on a promise to increase funding to the CBC. In tweets about #CdnMedia, people were viewing mainstream offline media sources as an adversary, and claiming that the truth was contrary to what was bring reported. Tweets to this effect would often include links to offline blogs, websites, or other sources of unconfirmed partisan information, or could include links to other social media posts, but never included evidence (scholarly or professional) to back up claims of media bias in an objective or investigative way.
In 2015, this discourse was kept within small isolated pockets of social media, and didn’t seem to influence the outcome of the election. However, given the growing distrust of media around the world, and the success of both Brexit and Trump, we can’t afford to ignore this movement. In 2019, I think we should watch the hashtag #CdnMedia and the fly by night blogs and websites that are associated with this hashtag. I also think that we should be on the lookout for other hashtags that may be used to make similar claims of fake news, and those people who spread those hashtags. Sewing distrust in the political process, political reporting, and governmental norms seems to be one major way that bad actors served to influence both the results of the 2016 US election and brexit. It could happen here, and if 2015 was any indication, there is a nascent community online already sharing these messages. Hopefully we can help prevent the spread of misinformation this year. But if Canadian distrust in the media grows, we may meet a similar fate to other countries around the world.