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Four lessons on misinformation in Canada

Over the past few years, misinformation and its counterpart disinformation have increasingly taken a public spotlight. Throughout the pandemic, we have seen that the spread of misinformation can have widespread impacts on society and threaten our democratic institutions. Recognizing the growing impact misinformation has on our lives, E4D undertook a research project to investigate a few foundational questions around misinformation in the Canadian context:
Four lessons on misinformation in Canada

How can individuals help? How can organizations help? And, how can governments help?

Over the past year we tackled these questions in a few ways. First, we completed a scoping literature review to understand the academic literature, followed by an exploratory survey of academics at Canadian institutions to understand their perceptions of misinformation. As a final step, we reviewed policy options that could be employed by governments to address misinformation on a large scale.

Through these efforts, we’ve provided our community with an updated toolkit and a new training webinar to support individuals and organizations looking to build resilience to misinformation and address it effectively after being shared (if you missed these, they’re available here). One week from today, we’ll be releasing our full report on misinformation, which deals explicitly with policy options and where the Canadian research community can go next. Ahead of this release, I’d like to share a few key points I’ve learned along the way.

First and foremost, there are less papers than I expected that deal explicitly with misinformation and disinformation in the Canadian context

While we summarize the existing literature in the report, one conclusion stands out: more research is needed. Information transmits and impacts people in incredibly complicated ways. With distinct contexts at the federal, provincial, and community levels, there seems to be wide variation in how misinformation reaches and impacts people.

Secondly, a collective effort is required to address misinformation.

Individual efforts are useful and needed, but deliberate efforts from organizations and governments must also be taken. In fact, many organizations have stepped up during COVID-19 to address misinformation and hopefully that continues. On the government side, plenty of recommendations and discussions exist, but few policy efforts have been enacted so far. For meaningful progress to be made to reduce misinformation, governments will likely need to enact policy in some form.

Next, there are plenty of options for reducing misinformation on social media that avoid government-led content removal.

Much of the focus of misinformation has been on social media and how misinformation spreads on these platforms. But the reality is, we really don’t know exactly how this happens. Numerous policy recommendations focus on legislating increased transparency around how algorithms perpetuate and amplify information, how moderation decisions are made, and how advertisements are targeted to individuals. These would all allow for a better understanding of how information spreads online and make room for more successful interventions to prevent the spread of misinformation.

And finally, improving resilience and information literacy are long term challenges.

As sources of misinformation are ever changing, being proactive is the ideal antidote. Improving public understanding of how to spot different types of misinformation and how to interpret research will help build resilience to misinformation. Long term plans must incorporate funding for these initiatives, especially at the community level.

This project has been an enjoyable one – although I will admit it was at times overwhelming to think of the scale of the problem. As this issue has quickly moved to the top of the agenda in many ways, a huge amount of new research has emerged very quickly. Our work here serves to both provide our community with practical tools for addressing this issue while also highlighting the need for more strategic research in the Canadian context. Together, we must continue to push for the involvement of organizations and governments at all levels to contribute solutions to this growing problem.

Make sure to check back next week, we’ll be releasing our full report on May 27th!

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