Day 6

The North American house hippo is back — and ready to tackle fake news

Twenty years ago, a Canadian infomercial about a fictional household pest went viral. It was meant to encourage media literacy among kids. Now, the North American house hippo is back to combat misinformation online.

'We think the house hippo is more important than ever,' says MediaSmarts executive director Kathryn Ann Hill

The beloved North American house hippo is back in a new ad to promote Canadian media literacy. (MediaSmarts)

If you believed everything you saw on TV in 1999, you might have been under the impression that Canada's basement cupboards were overrun with an unusual pest: the North American house hippo. 

Two decades ago, the Concerned Children's Advertisers created a fake infomercial about the fictional critters in order to raise awareness about the importance of media literacy. 

Now, Ottawa-based not-for-profit MediaSmarts is bringing the house hippo back out of its cupboard in a new video that focuses on media literacy in the age of Facebook and fake news.

The new ad is part of a media literacy campaign called Break the Fake.

"We found pockets of communities all over the country — from all kinds of different age groups as well, and different backgrounds — who were still reminiscing about the hippo," said MediaSmarts executive director Kathryn Ann Hill.

"So we thought, 'Gee, there's something here that really struck some kind of chord with Canadians ... and what better way to, again, illustrate how important it is to think critically than to bring back that character that everyone was so fond of?"

House Hippos, then and now

The new ad follows the original closely, mimicking the format and tone of a serious wildlife program.

The North American house hippo's habitat hasn't changed. As in the original, the creatures are still stealing socks and annoying Canadian pets.

But as technology has evolved since 1999, so too has the house hippo.

"We might be wondering why we're using so much data overnight when we're in bed sleeping and it turns out that hippos, like us, love to use our devices at night and play games, surf the net, check things out online," said Hill.

As Canadians enjoy unprecedented access to information through our internet-connected devices, Hill believes the need for media literacy is more essential than ever.

"There's misinformation, false information, accusations of fake news that may be true or not true," said Hill. "And so we think the house hippo is more important than ever, and that's why we brought them back."

According to Hill, 90 per cent of Canadians have admitted to falling for information that was later proven false.

But she understands why some folks might want to suspend their disbelief in this particular case.

"It's playful and it's cute and magical. And I think it speaks to the children in all of us."

To hear more from Kathryn Ann Hill, download our podcast or click Listen above.