Minister of Canadian Heritage Melanie Joly speaks to reporters after leaving a cabinet meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Feds can’t do much to fight fake news in Canada

Federal government can’t do much to fight fake news: Canadian Heritage documents

The federal government doesn’t believe it can do much on its own to stem the growing tide of fake news in Canada, according to briefing notes prepared for Canadian Heritage Minister Melanie Joly.

The documents, obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request, highlight that even though the government recognizes that fake news could threaten Canada’s democratic institutions at a time when traditional news outlets are facing cutbacks and financial challenges, there’s not much they can do to stop it.

The government’s inability to decide for Canadians what should and shouldn’t be considered fake news is one reason it can’t take direct action, according to the briefing notes, prepared in November by deputy Heritage minister Graham Flack.

Even if the government did attempt to publicly identify fake news stories, Flack said it could backfire, making readers more convinced the stories are true and increasing the likelihood they’d share the stories.

Overall, the briefing notes concluded that the role of combating misinformation should not rest on the government’s shoulders alone and that “there is not likely one single, easy solution”.

A trade association representing almost 1,000 digital and print media outlets across the country thinks otherwise.

John Hinds, the CEO of News Media Canada, said that there is a clear solution to the fake news problem.

“The antidote to fake news is real news,” said Hinds.

“It’s not about reinventing the wheel, it’s about supporting the existing infrastructure that can provide Canadians with credible news.”

That support may already be on its way. In January, Joly signalled at a meeting with members of a Quebec culture and communications union that the struggling news media industry is set to receive financial help from Ottawa in next week’s federal budget.

Related: Political commentator weighs in on pipelines and pinots

However, the documents released to The Canadian Press separated the issue of a struggling news media industry as “distinct” from the issues surrounding the rise of fake news.

Instead, the documents point to partnerships between social media networks and media literacy organizations as part of the solution to the misinformation problem, rather than government intervention.

One such initiative — a partnership between social media giant Facebook, which has been widely criticized for not combating deliberate misinformation campaigns, and Canadian not-for-profit media literacy group MediaSmarts — is meant to combat fake news that could influence the next federal election.

MediaSmarts education director Matthew Johnson said that, with funding from Facebook, they are creating a guide for MPs, candidates and parties on identifying online misinformation as well as public service announcement videos and short games for Canadian social media users.

“In the last few years, misinformation in news and misinformation online have become an issue that people are more conscious of,” said Johnson. “It’s a drum that’s been beating for quite some time now.”

In an emailed statement, Joly’s office asserted its commitment to working with social media companies and other online platforms to combat fake news but would not comment on the funding for the newspaper industry expected in Tuesday’s budget.

“Disinformation and misinformation are a real issue that we need to be alive and alert to,” read the statement.

“This is a conversation that we need to have with Canadians, including with companies which provide platforms for this information to be disseminated.”

Levi Garber, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Pursuit with rogue semi ends in arrest

RCMP chased a stolen semi tractor from Red Deer to Airdrie

Full weekend to celebrate NexSource Centre’s first birthday

April 6-7 will be jam-packed with action and excitement at the NexSource Centre

Umpires needed in Sylvan Lake and Central Alberta

A training clinic will be held in Red Deer in April

Alberta’s budget sets path to balance

The Alberta Government announced the 2018 budget on March 22

Three-year collective agreement reached for Lodge employees

Highlights include wage increases and more evenly distributed on-call work

Ottawa proposes restricted pot labels, packages

Packaging will include red stop sign with marijuana leaf and ‘THC’

Canadian cities hold March for our Lives events in wake of Florida shooting

Hundreds of people support the massive March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C.

Embattled band Hedley plays last show before hiatus

About 3,000 tickets had sold for final performance at B.C. venue

Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond wins figure skating world title

The 22-year-old won the women’s singles crown with her Black Swan routine

Calgary police investigate man posing as Calgary firefighter

Calgary police are looking for information on a suspect who stole a firefighter’s ID

Alberta tells B.C. to stop opposing pipelines if it doesn’t like gas prices

John Horgan said he would like to see the federal government step in to deal with high gas prices.

Uber self-driving crash video calls safety, rules into question

Experts say footage shows that vehicle’s sensors should have spotted pedestrian, initiated braking

Bashaw RCMP arrest man wanted in several crimes

Variety of criminal charges, including vehicle theft, facing-29-year-old man caught in Alix

Valuable rings stolen out of car in Thorsby Mar. 22

Thorsby/Breton RCMP seek to recover special stolen items

Most Read