Canadian Politics

A16(c) - Misinformation in Canadian Politics

Date: Jun 14 | Time: 08:30am to 10:00am | Location:

‘We Didn’t Start the Fire, It was Always Burning’: Wildfires, Misinformation Ecosystems and Political Consequences in Canada: Thomas Bergeron (University of Toronto), Peter Loewen (University of Toronto), Danielle Bohonos (University of Toronto)
Abstract: Compared to past years, more Canadians directly live with the consequences of wildfires to varying degrees. Many people have had to evacuate their homes due to the direct threat of fire, whereas, for others, wildfire smoke drastically decreased air quality. We fielded two surveys during wildfire season: one during the 2023 Alberta provincial election (N=948) and another to a general sample of Canadians (N=4,808). We examine how Canadians engaged with the news cycle about wildfires and how they responded to misinformation related to wildfires and politics more generally. We propose that climate skepticism may be an important driver of attitudes towards wildfires. First, we observe that the media diet differs among climate believers and skeptics. The lack of trust of climate skeptics in traditional media shapes this difference: they are significantly less likely to trust traditional media than climate believers. Second, we examine how false information about the wildfires (i.e., climate activists started the fire), integrates individuals' political misinformation belief system (e.g., Donald Trump won the 2020 election or the 15-minute city). Our preliminary analyses show that misinformation about the wildfires integrated individuals’ belief systems in a way that is consistent with prior attitudes. This is especially true for climate skeptics. We also aim to study how people structure their various false beliefs and how they influence their political behaviours. Overall, this research studies how people structure their false attitudes by examining the integration of a “new” issue in their belief system and whether it influences their behaviours.

The New Greatest Challenge of our Generation: Governing Climate Change Information, Misinformation, and Disinformation on Social Media: Andrew Heffernan (University of Ottawa)
Abstract: Climate change is the quintessential global challenge, while also perhaps the issues that has seen the most polarization in recent years. As such, understanding the way broader global politics manifest through tools like social media and resultantly impact policymaking becomes integral to effectively fighting the climate crisis. While climate change must be countered through effective mitigation and adaptation approaches at the global, national, and local levels, implementing effective policies to do so can only be accomplished through buy in by a critical mass of citizens. However, misinformation efforts have increasingly been targeted at issues that fall along partisan lines and climate change has been a particularly polarizing issue. While we know that online misinformation has become almost ubiquitous, its specific impacts on policymaking are less well known. Research in this paper shows that efforts to misinform and disinform the public are both becoming increasingly prevalent and effective. Such efforts are in turn leading to negative outcomes in relation to the ability of the Canadian government to sustain support for climate policies that are integral to realizing targets outlined in the Parid Agreement. The paper argues that the polarisation that is being stoked by misinformation campaigns on social media are the most serious threat to fighting climate change. Furthermore, it argued that new policies and approaches for policy development and implementation will be required to match the alacrity of the proliferating online flows of misinformation and disinformation.

When journalism is turned off: Evaluating the (disinformation) consequences of the meta news ban in Canada: Aengus Bridgman (McGill University)
Abstract: A commonly understood counter to mis- and disinformation spread on digital media is the availability of reliable information from high-quality journalist news sources. These journalistic news sources are said to play a role in prebunking and debunking false or misleading information. However, in August 2023, Meta began to limit the visibility of news content for Canadian users on two of the platforms most commonly used for political information gathering in Canada: Facebook and Instagram. In this paper, we evaluate two possible consequences of the removal of journalist-produced content on the overall Canadian information ecosystem. We ask: 1) does the overall information quality on political discussions on the meta platforms decrease? And 2) is this shift in information quality associated with a decreased volume of activity on meta platforms and (a corresponding) increase in volume on other social media. To respond to these questions, we collected a large-scale multi-platform dataset of Canadian political content from Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok. Our initial evaluation indicates a significant drop-off in external linking on Meta platforms which has resulted in a more insular and less informed conversation. We also observe a small rise in linking to known disinformation-disseminating websites who were unaffected by the ban. We do not witness any increase in political activity on platforms that continue to allow linking, suggesting that citizens are simply accepting a lower volume of news exposure. The reduced availability of journalism in social media spaces is likely to contribute to a less informed citizenry and a less-responsive democracy.

Understanding Provincial Variations in Vaccine Hesitancy in Canadian Provinces: The Role of Trust in Provincial Premiers and Misinformation: Guila Cohen (McGill University), Felix Laliberté (Université de Montréal), Mathieu Pelletier-Dumas (Université de Montréal), Dietlind Stolle (McGill University)
Abstract: Our project aims to identify the factors contributing to vaccine hesitancy in Canadian provinces, including the political and provincial sources. Preliminary findings indicate that trust in provincial premiers can reduce vaccine hesitancy in some provinces but not in others, suggesting that variation at the provincial level should be further explored. Thus, our study seeks to understand the regional disparities in vaccine hesitancy and why trust in premiers exerts varying influences on this hesitancy. We believe that a premier’s vaccine position and misinformation are the missing pieces of this puzzle. Our research draws on a representative Canada-wide COVID-19 panel survey that spanned twelve waves from April 2020 to April 2022, with 1623 respondents in the final wave. We hypothesize a positive relationship between conservative identity and vaccine hesitancy and expect vaccine hesitancy levels to be higher in provinces with vaccine-hesitant premiers. Furthermore, we hypothesize that respondents will be more trusting of premiers with whom they share ideological and political alignment. Finally, we expect the premier’s vaccine position will moderate the relationship between premier trust, misinformation, and vaccine hesitancy, with distinct effects in pro- and anti-vaccine premier scenarios. We will use various quantitative methods, such as regression and longitudinal analyses, to address these questions. This research will provide valuable insights into the complex dynamics of vaccine hesitancy in Canada, shedding light on the factors that drive hesitancy in different provincial contexts. It will also inform strategies to address and mitigate this critical public health issue. Keywords: COVID-19, vaccine hesitancy, premier trust, misinformation, political alignment, Canada.