Nawaz: Convoy of Truckers Highlights Urgent Need for Media Literacy

Media literacy is part of the revised curriculum in Quebec — a good thing since QAnon has an active base in that province.

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Now that the honking has stopped, the trucks have been dispersed and arrests have been made, there is still much to deal with regarding the truck convoy’s overstay in the nation’s capital.

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As American truckers prepare for their own action in Washington, many Ottawa residents are still traumatized and angered by what happened in their city. And with its brazen display of swastikas and Confederate flags in the nation’s capital, the hostile harassment of local residents and businesses, and the tumultuous occupation of downtown streets by what appeared to be a mix of hooligans and would-be members from the militia, the convoy of truckers has briskly brought home the dangerous reach of misinformation.

Organized by a mix of far-right activists and QAnon adherents, the convoy of truckers didn’t speak for the majority of truckers (nearly 90% are vaccinated) or most Canadians (who, in the together supported public health measures). Nonetheless, it managed to disrupt Ottawa for weeks, making international headlines and inspiring copycat protests around the world – thanks in part to amplification via fake Facebook accounts operated by foreign content factories in countries such as Bangladesh and Romania, as well as extensive coverage. on Fox News and Russian state-controlled RT.

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A supporter carries an American Confederate flag during the Freedom Convoy protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in front of Parliament on January 29, 2022 in Ottawa.
A supporter carries an American Confederate flag during the Freedom Convoy protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions in front of Parliament on January 29, 2022 in Ottawa. Photo by DAVE CHAN /AFP via Getty Images

Yes, there were people who came forward with legitimate concerns about the impact of public health measures after two long years of the pandemic. But there were also those who mistakenly believe that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, or that the vaccine comes with a tracking chip, or that there is a global elite cabal that worships Satan. and drinks the blood of abused children.

Listening to the protesters, one thing became clear: We are not all working with the same set of facts. Too many people have been misled by online conspiracy theories and far-right narratives.

Generating fake news is all too easy – and fast. The volume of disinformation generated by Russian web brigades and other foreign entities is designed to be overwhelmed. People are predisposed to believe something the more they see it, especially when it appears on different platforms and seems to come from different sources.

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First impressions are also notoriously difficult to shake, and creators of fake content can react quickly to events, while rigorous reporting and fact-checking takes time. Without a commitment to truth or even consistency, paid posts and comments from fake accounts are designed to stoke fear and provoke anger and mistrust, exacerbating existing societal divisions.

In October 2020, Facebook banned QAnon from its platforms, and Twitter also purged thousands of QAnon-related accounts. But relying on companies to regulate the spread of misinformation doesn’t go that far, especially given the agility of trolls and their ability to quickly create new accounts, generate more content, or pivot to others. platforms.

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People gather on a highway overpass in Toronto to support truckers en route to Ottawa to protest vaccination mandates for cross-border truckers.
People gather on a highway overpass in Toronto to support truckers en route to Ottawa to protest vaccination mandates for cross-border truckers. Photo by CARLOS OSORIO /Reuters

Education therefore becomes paramount: teaching people how to spot questionable content. On the Internet, this must go beyond checking the date and source of the story and finding support for the claims, but also considering the framing and any notable omissions, double checking the URL, researching additional sources, consulting a reputable fact checker. resources, and maybe even do reverse image searches and check metadata, as well as check themselves for confirmation bias. These habits must become reflexes and not ulterior motives.

Media literacy is part of the revised curriculum in Quebec — a good thing, since QAnon has an active base in that province, where material from the United States is often translated into French and exported overseas.

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Hearing the details of QAnon’s outlandish theories, it’s tempting to dismiss them out of hand, but the end game of such ideas and the entities promoting them is nothing less than the weakening of democracy. The January 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol and the convoy occupation in Ottawa are the sadly real consequences of eroded trust in government. And when several conservative politicians voiced their support for the convoy, they added fuel to a dangerous fire, fueling the far right at risk to truth and to the very institutions they were elected to serve.

In times of violent conflict, the rationale for some disinformation campaigns becomes apparent, just as Russia’s lies about Ukraine served as a pretext for the invasion. This week we learned that Ukrainian men separated from their families remained to defend their country, while women, children and the elderly sought safety in neighboring countries, sometimes after walking for hours. These grim war stories from Ukraine stand in stark contrast to Canadian protesters who rally for “freedom” but really complain about having to wear masks or take life-saving vaccines.

But democratic freedom is exactly what is at stake if we are too complacent about the risks of misinformation and far-right rhetoric gaining traction in Canada.

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