Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday August 24, 2021
Canada doesn’t need more social media trickery
The last thing this election campaign needs is a drift toward American style social media political manipulation and disinformation.
We saw an example of that over the weekend, and the offender is someone we would have hoped was above it — Chrystia Freeland.
It starts with an online question-and-answer session made in 2020 during the Conservative leadership race. In a tweeted video of the session, which was retweeted by Freeland, O’Toole is questioned about privatized health care. Asked if he would advocate private, “for-profit” health care in Canada, his clear response was “yes.”
The only problem is, the video was edited to manipulate the message. In the same segment, the original video shows O’Toole also noted that universal access to health services is of paramount importance. The condensed clip used in Freeland’s tweet did not include that statement.
Justin Trudeau later retweeted the video, and Twitter marked Freeland’s tweet as “manipulated media.” Conservative lawyers sent a complaint to Elections Canada demanding an investigation and disclosure of who was involved in making the video. Conservative manager of media relations Mathew Clancy said: “It’s disappointing to see the Liberals resort to American-style divisive politics.”
That’s rich, considering the Conservatives had their own social media mud slinging event just a week ago, distributing a video mocking Trudeau by placing his face on a character from the movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” It was so offensive even some sitting Conservatives called the tweet juvenile, amateur and a bad idea during an election campaign.
Fair enough. The Conservatives are hypocritical and too precious by half, but that doesn’t excuse what the Liberals did. Their campaign social media gurus manipulated a piece of content to change the message from the original. And the Conservatives did the same thing by adding Trudeau’s face to a fake partisan message.
Both these things are wrong. We should not be concerned about the feelings or reputations of the politicians and parties involved, but Canadians certainly deserve an apology.
This sort of social media distortion is a toxic import from our friends down south. It has become big business and high art in American politics to manufacture social media demonizing the opposition. The Trump Republican leadership and presidential campaign used literally hundreds of operatives to generate false and misleading storylines about their opponents. Many pundits argue that had an impact on Trump’s successful campaigns.
Granted, it was probably naive to hope this twisted tactic would not eventually migrate north, and in fact there have been previous examples. But things are getting worse, and that is not something Canadians should sit quietly and tolerate.
Much as we have been critical of social media giants for accepting and even encouraging this sort of behaviour, Twitter is to be congratulated for its practice of clearly labelling manipulated content. Other social media platforms have taken their own measures, but Twitter’s is among the most clear and identifiable, and that should sufficient incentive for political parties to lay off the disreputable tactic.
It cheapens already damaged election discourse. It disrespects our democratic process and ideals. Everyone knows election campaigns have their share of spin and partisan fakery. But outright manipulation is a line parties should not to cross. Parties need to understand that, and the best way to ensure that is by public reaction to this sort of unethical behaviour. We don’t need this garbage in our election. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)