British Columbia

Municipal politics vulnerable to social media misinformation, professor says

A set of inflammatory Facebook ads in Victoria, B.C.'s mayoral race shows municipal politics is just as vulnerable to social media misinformation, as it is at the federal and provincial levels.

Recent Facebook ads in Victoria's mayoral race show spread of fake news

Social media is an increasingly important factor in politics, including at the municipal level. (The Associated Press/Elise Amendola)

A set of inflammatory Facebook ads in Victoria, B.C.'s mayoral race shows municipal politics is just as vulnerable to social media misinformation, as it is at the federal and provincial levels.

The ads, targeting incumbent Mayor Lisa Helps, makes unsubstantiated allegations that link to a fake news story. It is unclear who paid for the ads.

David Black, a professor of communication at Victoria's Royal Roads University, says as an increasing portion of our lives are lived online, so too is our political discourse. The problem is discerning fact from fiction.

"That's the tension ...  anybody can disseminate information and opinion very widely anonymously and without any standards of proof," Black said.

There are examples of how fake news and campaigns have affected elections, most notoriously during the 2016 U.S. election where members of Russian intelligence were indicted in the U.S. for election meddling.

Black says the fallout from this and other well-publicized incidents of false information spreading, prompted Facebook and other social media platforms to make changes to improve overall accuracy by weeding out false stories.

Listen to On the Island's Gregor Craigie interview Professor David Black: 

Call out false claims

Black says it's a bit of a different situation at the municipal level.

"Municipal races happen in small places in what are effectively echo chambers," Black said. "In the absence of political parties and slates, most municipal political activity is personality centred."

Black says while there is a burden on social media users to be critical of what they are consuming, local candidates need to call out false claims — especially when they benefit.

"It's their obligation to speak out to and send a message to supporters and opponents alike that it's best to behave decently in real life and in our online digital politics," Black said. 

The municipal elections in British Columbia are Oct, 20, 2018.

With files from On The Island

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