The fear of foreign actors, primarily RUSSIA, meddling in Canada’s next federal election has been bleated ad nauseam by Canadian left-wing politicians, academics and journalists. Ever since Donald Trump burst their collective bubble of arrogance by winning the presidency at the tail end of 2016, the Liberal Party of Canada and their many allies in the press and universities have latched onto the Democratic Party’s scapegoat for why Hillary Clinton lost. They have used it as a cudgel for why we must vigilantly monitor for and neutralize “fake news” from social media in order to protect Canadians being similarly hoodwinked.
Certainly, Russia meddled in the last US election — but this is nothing new. Foreign actors from many different countries have tried to influence other countries’ elections, and America is undoubtedly a prime target, but it’s also a prime perpetrator of such subterfuge itself. It’s the extent of Russia’s influence in the last election that appears to have been greatly exaggerated — at least in comparison to the excessive coverage it has received. Robert Mueller’s Russia probe has not revealed anything more than what FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver called “fairly modest” interference on social media, which amounted to a monthly budget of $1.25 million for the interloping campaign by the Russkis, targeting a country of 235 million eligible voters. It’s a paltry sum compared to the $1.2 billion (double the size of Trump’s war chest) the Clinton campaign and super PACs spent throughout the campaign. Then there’s the fact that Russian Facebook ads were not all pro-Trump (many of which had little engagement), with some of the pro-Democrat ones garnering some of the more significant engagement. And to top it all off, Clinton campaign operatives were also on the take from Russian interests.
A Convenient Ruse
In spite of a lack of compelling evidence that Russia had a major influence on social media during the US election, the Canadian commentariat and Liberal members of parliament continue to push a narrative of fear over potential Russian subterfuge during the 2019 election.
Early last year, Liberal-cozy “non-partisan” think tank Public Policy Forum released a Liberal-government commissioned report that overstated and misstated the affect so-called fake news had on the American electorate as a main reason for why a government bailout of the legacy media in Canada (finally realized a couple weeks ago in the form of $595 million over five years) was desperately needed. The Liberal-stacked and Trudeau-government-funded Walrus magazine has repeatedly proffered the Russian red herring as well. The latest from Canada’s titular high-brow magazine, “Could the Russians Decide Canada’s Next Prime Minister?“, the author walks back from the absurd question posited in the title, instead concluding that Russia will try and amplify messages it likes and attack those it doesn’t in order to sow discord in the country. That falls far short of Russia installing a Manchurian candidate willing to scrap the Magnitsky Act and give away our arctic sovereignty. And at this point, journalists, social media companies, and the average Canadian citizen are aware of Russian bots and fake news to have their guard up.
Nevertheless, Canadian mainstream media and the Liberal government continue beating the old skinny horse in Raskolnikov’s dream that is modern day Russia — which more resembles a Rasputin in his final days than that of a Rasputin at the height of his influence. There are many reasons for Canadians not to be Russophiles, but it serves the public little good to focus so much attention on Russia when actual economic superpower China mostly gets ignored for its far greater and growing influence in Ottawa, such as Chinese smartphone company Huawei continuing to sell its wares here as many of our allies ban it or how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave the Chinese government a pass for the drugs, money laundering, and real-estate fraud prolific in Canada that are closely tied to that country, which a Global News investigation blew wide open last week (surprisingly, little of this has been picked up by national mainstream media).
So why does the Canadian government and Liberal-friendly media continue to point the finger at Russia?
Hazarding a guess, Putin’s Russia is a convenient boogie man for the Liberals to demand social media giants suppress content they don’t like. How far this censorship goes is a big question mark, but watching the recent developments in America, as well as some cases in our own country — that the media have all but ignored — this should be of greater concern to Canadians, as well as to our seemingly incurious media and craven opposition parties.
Evidence Of Bias By Social Media Giants
2018 saw Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admit to the world that Silicon Valley is “an extremely left-leaning place,” but deny Facebook employees “have bias in the work that we do.”
Yet Facebook’s record says otherwise.
Popular YouTube vloggers and pro-Trump supporters Diamond and Silk were informed by Facebook back in April that their videos were “unsafe to the community” and their 1.4 million followers on the platform no longer received notifications of their latest videos. Not too long after, during Zuckerberg’s House hearing, Republican Senator Ted Cruz hammered him, rattling off a list of conservatives censored by the platform. Cruz also cited a bombshell 2016 report from Gizmodo that revealed Facebook employees routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservatives, while also “inject[ing]” or boosting other news stories that weren’t picking up traction. During the hearing, Zuckerberg also denied that virtual-reality pioneer Palmer Luckey was fired from the company because of his politics, but The Wall Street Journal has since revealed it indeed was a result of his support for Trump. More recently, Facebook conveniently purged over 800 American political pages and accounts without notice a month before the Midterms, only disclosing to the media several of the pages banned giving it the appearance both the left and right were targeted, but leaving it unclear if the majority of the accounts targeted were actually conservative, as critics claim.
One Facebook page included in the purge but not officially listed by Facebook in the purge was Canadian libertarian conservative political commentator/citizen journalist Dan Dicks’ Press For Truth. Dicks’ Facebook page had over 350,000 followers at the time Facebook decided to shut him down. Progressive political media outlet and advocacy group North99 cited Press For Truth as the most popular conservative Facebook page in the country in 2017.
Dicks, a 39 year-old Vancouverite who used to work in the CanCon industry, founded Press For Truth in 2006.
“They accused me of spamming, which is something I certainly haven’t done,” said Dicks in a phone interview. “They said it was either spamming or my page was being operated from a fake account, which is something I also haven’t done.”
Asked why he thinks he was banned, he surmises it was because of his day-to-day anti-establishment political coverage.
“Well, in my interview with People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, I got him to talk about reforming the Bank of Canada, I asked him about things like Bilderberg, and the deep state, and secret government. I asked him a lot of things that you don’t normally hear from the mainstream.”
Whether or not you classify Dicks as a conspiracy theorist, his opinions and ideas do not appear to cross into hate speech. And many of his criticisms are directed at the Trudeau government.
“We consider ourselves to be a platform for all ideas,” said Zuckerberg to Cruz back in April, a line that increasingly rings hollow.
Facebook and the other social media giants insist they’re politically neutral platforms for individuals to express themselves, a classification that removes many of the responsibilities of a publisher, which allows these companies to fall under US legislation that gives legal immunities (with limitations) against liability for what their users post. However, an internal Google briefing “The Good Censor”, first reported by Breitbart News, revealed that the company’s internal research found that the social media companies are shifting away from the “American tradition” of prioritizing “free speech for democracy, not civility” and moving towards the “European tradition,” which “favors dignity over liberty and civility over freedom.”
The briefing also discusses how tech firms are “behaving badly”, which includes “commercialized conversation”, which basically means that it forces individuals and groups’ to pay in order for their content to be seen by a wide part of their audience. It’s part of the reason why a political third-party advertiser can reach a wider audience on a platform like Facebook than the Toronto Star; they pay for the reach. Critics cite this, as well as mysterious algorithms that decide what we are fed (typically catering to our base confirmation biases), as reason for why politics has become so polarized.
When it was Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s turn to sit in the hot seat in Washington, he also claimed that his “left-leaning” company doesn’t discriminate towards conservatives on Twitter.
But like Facebook, Twitter’s actions speak louder than its words.
Some popular conservative commentators in America have been banned or shadow banned (where a user’s tweets/profile are hidden from their followers and other users, but their account remains active, giving the false impression they are still able to contribute to the conversation on the platform) from the microblogging platform. Although some of those banned may have fallen afoul of Twitter’s user policy, many appear to have not violated the terms, but were banned nonetheless. The latest example was controversial conservative activist Laura Loomer, banned for a tweet that doesn’t appear to violate Twitter’s rules. It’s noteworthy that Facebook followed Twitter’s lead in banning Loomer shortly thereafter, a recent trend, where big tech companies appear to ban individuals in tandem, essentially exiling them from the vast majority of the online community.
(Loomer protested the ban last Thursday — handcuffing herself to the door of Twitter HQ, wearing the Yellow Star and livestreaming a megaphone-amplified monologue — pointing out the hypocrisy of some of the other users being left unpunished for spewing hate on the platform. Ironically, Loomer has said far worse things on Twitter in the past without being reprimanded. )
But Twitter political bias has been a frequent complaint among conservatives users for some time. Last summer, some of Trump’s GOP allies’ Twitter accounts would not show up automatically when searched, like prominent accounts typically do. Reuters reported that in September and October, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), a party group supporting Democrats, reported more than ten thousand ostensibly automated accounts. During this same time period some prominent conservative commentators like Gavin McInnes were also banned from the platform, leading some to believe Democrat-affiliated organizations like DCCC were behind these figures getting axed.
In Canada, feminist activist and journalist Meghan Murphy was permanently banned from the platform for saying that men aren’t women, in that transgender women are not the same thing as biological women. Murphy, founder of news outlet Feminist Current, has been what trans advocates call a trans exclusionary radical feminist (TERF), which means she doesn’t think that transwomen, or any men, should be included in certain female spaces and organizations. Back in August, she was suspended twice for criticizing a transwoman, and, one can assume, since Twitter is never clear on these things, misgendering her. In mid-November she was suspended again, for misgendering.
“It’s a huge blow in terms of my ability to make a living, which I am certain is precisely why these trans activists went after me,” said Murphy in an email (full interview here). “I am an independent writer and journalist, and have been able to speak out truthfully about many important issues affecting women and girls over the years, freely, because I’ve built my own platform, and don’t work for a large company or corporation that would otherwise limit what I’m able speak about/report on.”
Jonathan Kay, Canadian editor of Quillette, has supported Murphy’s work and defended her right to free speech on Twitter, which led to him losing his verified blue check mark, something popular conservative and alt-right Twitter accounts seem to get revoked when taking political positions Twitter doesn’t like, meanwhile Twitter hands out blue check marks like candy to left-wing accounts with far fewer followers.
“I think it is appalling that Twitter banned Meghan Murphy … There’s obviously a market for Meghan’s opinions, seeing that she had 20,000 likes on one of the tweets that Twitter identified as objectionable,” says Kay. “The most disgusting thing is the response from the Canadian media, which is always talking a good game about how we need more women’s voices and how female commentators should be supported and championed. yet now here you have one of Canada’s most prominent feminists being shut up, and you can hear a pin drop on the left.”
Another Canadian free speech proponent, at the centre of a free speech scandal at Laurier University last year, Lindsay Shepherd says she sometimes is told by her followers of possible censorship of her content.
“Some people have told me that I don’t show up on their Twitter feed or they find themselves randomly unsubscribed from my Youtube channel, but I’m not sure what’s going on with that because my experience with Twitter and YouTube seems normal.”
Another case regarding a Canadian user being banned from Twitter, which I reported on earlier this year for CANADALAND, was a parody account mocking Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. The ban came after high-level government flacks tweeted complaints and the minister’s office reported the account for impersonation (even though the fake account spelled its name wrong and the bio made it clear it was a parody) to Twitter Canada. I also reported on how Senator Denise Batters reported on Conservative serial harasser @canadiancynic for calling her a “twatwaffle” and “cunt”. Although both of these cases may have warranted bannings, they raise the question of whether politicians are also targeting other more legitimate critics online for censorship.
Last January, American right-wing activist and journalism organization Project Veritas had undercover journalists infiltrate Twitter and catch several employees essentially admit Twitter is censoring, with one of them saying, “We’re trying to ‘down rank’… shitty people to not show up,” i.e. shadow banning.
Finally, the third censorship musketeer Google was a no-show for its own Washington hearing. Although Google maintains that it’s politically neutral like its fellow tech giants, searching the company’s recent history suggests that’s disingenuous.
Google, in an internal memo, dismissed President Trump’s claim that its search engine was biased in favour of Hillary Clinton during the last election as a conspiracy theory. Yet research by American psychologist and journalist Robert Epstein revealed the opposite in a report that reads in part:
It is somewhat difficult to get the Google search bar to suggest negative searches related to Mrs. Clinton or to make any Clinton-related suggestions when one types a negative search term. Bing and Yahoo, on the other hand, often show a number of negative suggestions in response to the same search terms. Bing and Yahoo seem to be showing us what people are actually searching for; Google is showing us something else — but what, and for what purpose?
As for Google Trends, as Lieberman reported, Google indeed withholds negative search terms for Mrs. Clinton even when such terms show high popularity in Trends. We have also found that Google often suggests positive search terms for Mrs. Clinton even when such terms are nearly invisible in Trends. The widely held belief, reinforced by Google’s own documentation, that Google’s search suggestions are based on “what other people are searching for” seems to be untrue in many instances.
Google tries to explain away such findings by saying its search bar is programmed to avoid suggesting searches that portray people in a negative light. As far as we can tell, this claim is false; Google suppresses negative suggestions selectively, not across the board. It is easy to get autocomplete to suggest negative searches related to prominent people, one of whom happens to be Mrs. Clinton’s opponent.
Breitbart News (yes, a “far-right” news outlet is still capable of doing original, important reporting, despite its more off-putting fare) reported on a study that revealed that Google overwhelmingly favours liberal outlets over conservative ones. The latter was only represented by Fox News and The Wall Street Journal in the top 100 news outlets to be found in Google’s search results. Breitbart has also reported on how Google internal communications show employees discriminate against conservative colleagues, and an illuminating Breitbart investigation into the extent of Google’s bias and censorship in a series of interviews with former Google employees cast further doubt on Google’s neutrality, including one former employee saying, “I know there are efforts to demote anything non-PC, anti-Communist and anti-Islamic terror from search results.”
(But perhaps most dystopian of all in regards to Google censorship is its recent work developing a censored search engine for China.)
Would Google similarly meddle with search results in Canada to benefit one political candidate over another?
In Canada, Jordan Peterson accused Google of attempting to censor him for his conservative beliefs, briefly shutting down his Gmail and YouTube accounts for some unspecified violation of their terms of agreement.
While covering far-right Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy’s race this fall I asked her about censorship. She told me she has many examples of her content being suppressed on all of the major social media platforms. Some of her content could be deemed hateful content, but during the mayoral race I noticed that her campaign emails, which wouldn’t fall under hate speech, sent to my Gmail account were redirected to my spam box, something that other email lists I’ve signed up for that use the same software do not.
Perhaps readers think it’s perfectly acceptable for the big tech giants to censor someone like Goldy, Murphy, or Dicks, but, again, where is the line drawn, and do we trust these companies to not cross it? Are the private companies, classified as not publishers, that still get to make political decisions on who gets a voice on their platforms? Or should their censorship be considered a violation of people’s free speech rights since they host the vast majority of users online?
Trudeau Government’s Connections To Social Media Giants And The 2019 Election
Back at the start of this year, founder of CANADALAND and podcast host Jesse Brown spent an entire episode looking at the warm relationship between Facebook and the Trudeau government. As Brown pointed out, while Facebook is facing anti-trust crackdowns and investigations from dozens of other countries’ governments, the Trudeau government seems to be getting along swimmingly with the juggernaut.
In October of last year, Facebook announced it was launching an “election integrity initiative” in Canada that includes instructing Canadians on “digital news literacy” and politicians on how to take care of their cyber hygiene.
“I’m absolutely delighted to see Facebook and MediaSmarts taking a step in the right direction today in addressing the challenges of the digital era and the continued protection of our democratic process,” Minister of Democratic Institutions Karina Gould said as a guest at Facebook’s event.
Oddly, up until this spring no one from Facebook Canada was a registered lobbyist in Ottawa, even though Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook Canada and former policy director for former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, had previously had lots of access to top senior members of Trudeau’s cabinet. (There are several other prominent individuals with current/former ties to both the Liberal government and one of the major social media companies.)
On top of the election integrity initiative, Facebook has contributed $500,000 in partnership with far-left Ryerson University to fund five digital news startups and this summer announced it had contracted Agence France-Presse (AFP) fact-checkers to vet news content and blog postings.
The Globe and Mail article reporting Facebook’s announcement of hiring fact-checkers had a bizarre unattributed paragraph that jumped out at me for its Kafkaesque nature: “At the same time, the Conservatives have come under fire for a series of attacks on social media against the Liberal government, some of which offered biased information according to a number of experts.”
Months after Facebook reportedly hired fact-checkers, the CBC published an article about the sole Facebook fact-checker in Canada that finds about five to ten articles a day worth vetting for fake news. One of the most common types of fake news he says he comes across is “Political news about religion, immigration or the current government in power.”
Not to be outdone, the aforementioned Liberal-connected Public Policy Forum has announced a Digital Democracy Project that will “monitor digital and social media in real time” for “disinformation in the lead-up to the October 2019 federal election.” Ottawa-based independent news outlet Blacklock’s Reporter exclusively reported that PPF has applied for a pending government grant for the fact-checking endeavour. Elections Canada already monitors disinformation during federal elections.
And more questions over online censorship arise when looking at the UN Migration Pact the Trudeau government is set to sign the this month, which reads in part:
Would the Canadian government or Facebook, PPF and Elections Canada’s fact-checkers go so far as to try and censor critics of illegal immigration like Rebel founder Ezra Levant and Toronto Sun columnist Candice Malcolm for “intolerance”, “xenophobia” and “biased information”?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already repeatedly told Facebook in closed-door meetings the platform needs to get its “fake news” problem under control or face government regulation, without his government specifying exactly what fake news is. Although his right-hand man, best friend and principal secretary Gerald Butts may have alluded to what one kind of “fake news” might be.
In the Good Censors we trust?