Ideas

Confronting the Disinformation Age

Fake news. Foreign meddling. Fraud. Deliberate deception. We consume all of it, sometimes not knowing the source or what is true. A recent panel discussion presented at Simon Fraser University's Public Square Community Summit examines what we can do to confront the epidemic of disinformation.
A panel discussion, recorded at Simon Fraser University, explores the impact that disinformation has on Canada and Canadians. (Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images)


Fake news. Foreign meddling. Fraud. Deliberate deception.  We consume all of it, sometimes not knowing the source or what is true.  A recent panel discussion presented at Simon Fraser University's Public Square Community Summit examines what we can do to confront the epidemic of disinformation.  

As the panel organizers noted:

Information is fundamental to our existence. Without it, we cannot understand or effectively respond to the events that shape our world. Throughout history, campaigns to deliberately spread false information to influence public opinion or obscure the truth have been launched by individuals, organizations, and governments. 

But today, we're living in a new age of information facilitated primarily by digital technology. These advancements offer us extraordinary access to facts and data, but also allow for harmful, inaccurate, and manipulated information to be created and disseminated at an unprecedented speed, scope, and scale. 
 
Falsehoods are pitted against facts in competition for our attention and technology is used to exploit our cognitive functioning without repercussion. In what is being called the "post-truth" era, the distortion of our information landscape is eroding our trust in institutions, political systems, the media, and each other. 

Confronting the Disinformation Age panelists David Frum, Sue Gardner and Christopher Wylie with moderator Ian Hanomansing. (Simon Fraser University)

Ian Hanomansing, co-anchor of The National, moderated. The panelists were: David Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic; Sue Gardner, former executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation; and Christopher Wylie, former Director of Research for Cambridge Analytica, who exposed how social media data was being exploited for political ends.

The panelists discuss disinformation campaigns and the impact they're having on the Canadian landscape, particularly in this election year. 

Chris Wylie contends that Canadians do not take the problem seriously enough because of what amounts to a superiority complex over the United States. 

Sue Gardner echoes his sentiment, adding that Canadians should be very wary and even "scared" about the influence and impact of social media campaigns on our political and social lives and institutions. 

David Frum agrees there is cause for concern, but also suggests that the "robust middle class" in Canada protects us — for now — and that as we move into the future, the preservation of the middle class is essential to our democracy.
 



**This episode was produced by Anne Penman.

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