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How Fake News Harms Democracy: Persuasive Essay

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There is no doubt that elections and democracy play a major role in the lives of Canadians. However, it is apparent that the issue of fake news is a rising epidemic that has threatened to harm and disrupt democracy by spreading disinformation, with the goal to alter the democratic process and affect election outcomes. Fake news is false information that is created and spread with the objective to mislead people and develop confusion and mistrust amongst people, in a political aspect (Fake news: Disinformation in Canada, 2019). Although many people have become aware of fake news in recent years, it has been around since ancient Rome. During ancient Rome, fake news was used by politicians to turn the public against one’s political rival (Fake news: Disinformation in Canada, 2019). There are three different types of fake news, which are misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information. Misinformation is a form of fake news that is referred to as fake news that is not intended to mislead people (Fake news: Disinformation in Canada, 2019). Disinformation refers to fake news that is purposely fake news, with the intention to manipulate people. Mal-information is fake news that is directed and intended to harm a particular group of people (Fake news: Disinformation in Canada, 2019). All three of these forms of fake news pose as major threats to the democratic processes in many countries. Fake news became particularly dangerous to Canadians during the 2019 Canadian election, in which the Canadian public became vulnerable to fake news that was being used to spread deceptions of political events and statements by political figures, with the intent to manipulate voters and lead them to vote a certain way. Overall, it is evident that fake news in Canada harms Canadian democracy by discrediting mainstream media, disrupting election campaigns, and falsely misleading voters. This is done by the spreading of fake news through social media, the use of advanced technology, and the statements made by high-profile political leaders such as Andrew Scheer.

Mainstream media plays a major role in politics, as it is able to deliver important statements of political leaders and what each Canadian political party stands for, to the public. Many Canadians turn to mainstream media to gather facts about the Canadian election, which means that mainstream media helps voters gain a stronger understanding of each Canadian political party and what they stand for. Therefore having a significant impact on the way eligible voters will vote. Mainstream media has also aided Canadians in being more aware of harmful fake news, as it has managed to link fake news back to social networking sites, such as Twitter. (Al-Rawi, Groshek, & Zhang, 2018, 53). The social media site Twitter is extremely popular and has a very strong influence on its users. Twitter particularly is favored for political discussions, as many high-profile politicians such as Donald Trump, Doug Ford, Andrew Sheer, and Justin Trudeau are amongst those who use this site. Twitter makes it simple for people to express their political opinions, beliefs, views, and values. However, this also means that this social media platform can be used to easily spread fake news, which will harm Canadian democracy by discrediting mainstream media. According to a study by Ahmed Al-Rawi (2018), fake news is often created on Twitter by selecting main topics in politics and taking the most frequent terms and phrases from statements in order to reconstruct these statements by making them seem legitimate (691). Thus, those who read these statements on Twitter will believe these false statements. Furthermore, a study conducted by Ahmed Al-Rawi, Jacob Groshek, and Li Zhang (2018), gathered tweets using the hashtag fake news from January 3 to May 7, 2018 (53). Many of these tweets that contained the hashtag fake news, falsely claimed to be associated with major Canadian mainstream media sources. This included CBC News and Global News, which are two of Canada’s major mainstream media television networks that followed the 2019 Canadian election very closely and constantly reported on it (#Fakenews is being used to discredit mainstream media coverage of the 2019 Canadian election, 2019). Many Canadians turned to CBC News and Global News to gather information on the federal election in regard to political events and statements by political leaders. However, since these major mainstream media television networks were constantly associated on Twitter with the hashtag fake news, it ultimately created mistrust among Canadians who viewed these networks. According to an article, the fake news tag on Twitter is often used as a “tool to wage personal attacks on politicians that ultimately enhances political polarization and echo chamber, while Canadian mainstream media is sometimes unjustifiably attacked with fake news accusations” (#Fakenews is being used to discredit mainstream media coverage of the 2019 Canadian election, 2019). Therefore, fake news has proven to be harmful to Canadian democracy as it discredits Canadian mainstream media, such as CBC News and Global News.

Technology is a useful tool that has become a major part of society and continues to advance. A form of technology that has significantly advanced is automated robots. Although such forms of technology can be used for positive purposes in society, they can also, however, be used for negative purposes as well. Advanced technology has been used to disrupt Canadian election campaigns by spreading fake news, which is harmful to democracy. For instance, a study found that robots were being used by political figures and governments internationally, to spread false information in order to sway the public and collect more votes by deceiving eligible voters (Al-Rawi, Groshek, & Zhang, 2018, p. 53). These robots are able to continuously send tweets at fast rates to multiple users at a time. Therefore a high number of people will read the fake news that is being distributed, which is harmful to democracy. For instance, multiple Twitter robots were found to be spreading the hashtag “Trudeau must go”, ahead of the 2019 Canadian federal election. Many of these accounts were discovered to be tweeting up to a hundred times a day and successfully manipulated people, as many users began retweeting the tweets of fake accounts (Fake Twitter accounts push hashtag #TrudeauMustGo: Report, 2019). This was detrimental to Trudeau’s election campaign because as a result of the fast-spreading hashtag, many people jumped on the bandwagon due to the high number of tweets that were supporting the hashtag, not knowing that the accounts that were spreading this disinformation were robots and not people. According to a study, it is therefore apparent that such advanced forms of technology are able to “enable key policy actors to bypass government organizations, regulations, and programs in imagining and creating policy alternatives, highlighting the ignorance of not just the public but also many policy-makers with these new technologies” (Perl, Howlett, & Ramesh, 2019, p. 587). Additionally, disinformation and misinformation harms Canadian democracy as it has become a “socio-cultural technology-enabled epidemic in digital news, propagated via social media” (Rubin, 2018, p. 1013). This is apparent because since fake news is an issue that many people have become aware of in recent years, many experts are still researching it and discovering how it is able to harm election campaigns. According to a study, internet robots play a major role in this issue and these robots are able to “drive the diffusion of misinformation” (Ruths, 2019, p. 348). Therefore, it is clear that fake news harms Canadian democracy by using advanced technology to disrupt election campaigns.

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Political leaders of political parties in Canada will often publically discuss political statements, events, what they will do for Canada if they win, and how they will improve the quality of life for Canadians if they win. However, in addition to discussing what they will do as leaders, some politicians also use their power to spread disinformation and misinformation about other political leaders and events in an attempt to falsely mislead voters to increase their own chances of getting elected. This is very harmful to democracy because it will disrupt and alter the Canadian democratic process. For instance, the Conservative party released statements on social media to announce that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was officially under investigation by the RCMP for the SNC-Lavalin scandal (Conservatives forced to delete tweet alleging Trudeau under RCMP investigation, 2019). After the Conservative party released this statement about their rival, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer himself was quoted at a campaign gathering saying “The RCMP is contacting people in his office about his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair” (Conservatives forced to delete tweet alleging Trudeau under RCMP investigation, 2019). However, the RCMP came forward and clarified that this was in fact, false information. This was proven to be harmful because not only did the Conservative party spread misinformation on social media, but leader Andrew Scheer himself publically spread misinformation on camera. Many people would see this footage and see the statements on social media of the misinformation, which could result in Canadians developing mistrust of Justin Trudeau, his campaign, and the Liberal party. Thus it is apparent that this fake news could have easily misled and manipulated Canadians to believe that the RCMP was investigating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, had the RCMP not clarified that it was in fact, false. Moreover, Gabrielle Lim, who is a researcher at the Date and Society Research Institute, has said “They should be very wary of the type of information they are sharing, the information their candidates are sharing because we often find that comes back to the leader as backlash” (Jackson, 2019). Therefore, it is clear that fake news can be spread via statements and posts made by politicians and political parties, which is proven to be harmful to Canadian democracy as it falsely misleads voters.

It is evident that fake news has negatively impacted Canadian democracy and has had a major impact, as many Canadians became vulnerable to disinformation and misinformation. Likewise, the United States also deals with the issue of fake news as it became a major problem during the 2016 American election. This election made many Americans question their own democracy as it was revealed that other countries such as Russia led by Putin, were accused to have swayed the results of the 2016 election. The Russian government was accused to have enforced public mistrust in American democracy by spreading fake news via social media in favor of Donald Trump (Peters, 2017, p. 1161). Moreover, fake news became a major topic during Donald Trump’s campaign. During Trump’s campaign, he publically labeled multiple major mainstream media news companies as “fake news”. Amongst these labeled fake news by Donald Trump are CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post (Al-Rawi, 2018, p. 697). Many people took notice that Trump would label any media source that criticized him and his campaign as fake news, thus discrediting multiple sources. According to an article by CBS News, Trump was reported to have said, “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe” (Lesley Stahl: Trump admitted mission to “discredit” press, 2018). This demonstrates how fake news can harm democracy and journalism. Fake news discredits mainstream media and by doing so creates mistrust in the public, which can lead to citizens turning their backs on mainstream media and instead turning to fake news. Also, fake news harms journalism and journalists because when consumers hear high-profile politicians such as Donald Trump, claiming that certain mainstream media sources are spreading disinformation, then they are highly likely to stop paying for those newspapers and stop watching those news channels (Long, Richardson, & Stahler, 2019, p. 313). This can result in journalists losing their jobs.

It is apparent that fake news is harmful to Canadian democracy, as many Canadians have been manipulated. Thus, it is crucial for possible solutions and interventions to be identified and implemented in order to protect democracy. According to a study “a system of education and advocacy, which will empower the population with the literacy and knowledge to identify misinformation” (Rochlin, 2017, p. 391). This would be very beneficial for democracy since many Canadians are not able to recognize and identify misinformation and disinformation. Further, deepening our knowledge of the impacts of fake news will help advance the democratic process in a global and digital context (Guitton, 2019, p. 176). In addition, an article by the Globe and Mail suggests a possible intervention and solution could be “a well-funded and ongoing research program to keep tabs on the evolving networks and methods of anti-democratic forces” (Greenspon & Owen, 2017). Thus, it is apparent that many want to combat this issue and encourage our government to take action in order to protect Canadian democracy.

In conclusion, it is evident that fake news in Canada harms Canadian democracy by discrediting mainstream media, disrupting election campaigns, and falsely misleading voters. This is done by the spreading of fake news through social media, the use of advanced technology, and even through statements made by high-profile political leaders such as Andrew Scheer. Harmful fake news can result in various problems for democratic countries as it threatens to create a separation between groups of eligible voters or between voters and a certain political party (Baccarella, Wagner, Kietzmann, & McCarthy, 2018, p. 435). Therefore, it is clear that the Canadian government must take action in order to solve and intervene in this issue, as it has disrupted the Canadian democratic process and election outcomes.


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