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Lee Taylor: Policing misinformation is futile. We have to trust that the truth will win

Commentary

Who decides what is true?

Firstly, we’ll skip over postmodernism’s bizarre premise that there is no objective truth. We’ll agree that although experiences may differ, truth does exist. Many truths within our own lives appear self-evident, but how about beyond our lives into the world around us? What about the information we receive—how does one determine what is true here? 

The online world provides access to vast droves of information, and we’re now exposed to as much data in a single day as someone in the 15th century would be in their entire lifetime. But, how do we decipher between fact and fiction in this information overload? 

It’s important that false or faulty information does not unduly influence the public conversation, and it’s widely accepted that truth is generally preferable to lies. In the past, we could expect news outlets to objectively report the facts, but recent events would suggest either a lack of journalistic integrity or—more concerningly—ideological capture in our mainstream media institutions. The New York Times is no longer the paper of record, reporting Hamas press releases verbatim. The once-great BBC seems to be more interested in teaching about white privilege, and the Associated Press is now the communications arm of the climate change lobby. 

Combine this with the fact that social media gives anyone with a smartphone the ability to post information to the masses, alongside the introduction of AI technology with its ability to easily manipulate images and speech, and we have a landscape rife with unpredictability. As the famous quotation goes: “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”  

There are now growing calls to address online “disinformation” and “misinformation.” The UN General Assembly has “expressed concern over the proliferation of disinformation,” whilst everyone from Facebook to the Canadian government has come up with initiatives to “fact check” or stop this content from spreading.

To most people, this probably sounds like a sensible idea, but you don’t have to dig too far to see how insidious it truly is. If history has taught us anything, it’s that any attempt to censor or manipulate the views of a population only ends one way. The first thing the Bolsheviks did in 1917 was take over control of the press—Lenin knew the power of information. When people can not change things, they change the words. Try searching for the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in China and you’ll come up blank.

We should be far more worried about attempts to keep us “safe” from untruths than the untruths themselves. Do not trust anyone who uses the words “disinformation” or “misinformation.” What they mean is “opinions that run contrary to mine that I should be allowed to suppress.” 

One clear example. In 2020 we were all told that COVID-19 came from a spillover event, potentially from a wet market in Wuhan. Anybody proposing an alternative explanation, say a dreadful accident in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was immediately regarded as a purveyor of “misinformation” and in some cases, racist. Facebook blocked, purged, and shadow-banned anyone proposing this hypothesis. The mainstream press was all in lockstep that COVID-19 did not come from a lab despite a mountain of evidence, even in the early days. President Biden accused President Donald Trump of fanning racism in his criticism of the Chinese government over the pandemic, and his administration reportedly shut down the State Department investigation into the possible lab origins of the virus. It has since come to light that there is a substantial probability that COVID-19 did, in fact, leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Three years later, the mainstream media and U.S. intelligence sources (specifically including the U.S. Department of Energy) are now reporting this is the likely origin.

The mainstream narrative is clearly not always going to be correct in real-time. But how many lives could have been saved in this instance, or could be saved in the future, if we were allowed independent inquiry? People suffered real consequences because governments and platforms effectively decided that one perspective was the only acceptable one to be expressed. 

It is my view that we have to trust people to exercise judgement. This doubtless comes with risks. People will get caught up in the sheer volume of information and believe or convey things that are untrue. The world is flat. Bill Gates caused COVID. Or men can have babies. But that’s the trade-off. A free society relies on a flourishing marketplace of ideas. 

You would think that this would give gatekeepers of information cause to reflect and review censorship policies, but the opposite has been the case. They’ve decided that what the world needs is more censorship.

Protesters attend a rally against censorship in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Tuesday, Oct 25, 2022. Matias Delacroix/AP Photo.

The censorship industrial complex is pervasive and wide-reaching, including in previous “open” channels such as social media (with a few notable exceptions). Consumers are becoming used to a world with fewer dissenting opinions. Dissenting opinions, alternative and independent views, and traditional values are being deconstructed to an alarming degree. 

The vast majority of mainstream and digital social channels are beholden to censorship bias from internal and external forces, including Media Matters, NewsGuard, Graphika, and others. It’s hard to find genuine alternative platforms to advertise to an independent audience.

Against all odds, independent media channels are thriving, with consumer ratings in the millions and heavy engagement across multiple platforms, thanks to their alternative offer to the mainstream narrative. However, independent media are what they say—independent—so attempting to secure advertising space for their business would be akin to herding cats. 

So where does that leave the companies and brands who want to advertise to this “lost” market? It’s one thing to stand on the sidelines and moan about how the game has been rigged. Maybe it’s time for those of us who care about freedom and truth to step in and change the rules. That’s why I’ve started Uncommon Ad Space, a platform that can bridge the gap between ideology, censorship, and being able to reach your customers in a trusted environment.

This brand-new advertising platform represents a unique opportunity to put brands front and centre before a largely untapped audience of millions of fiercely loyal and independent thinkers. A platform for the de-platformed and for those who care about critical thinking.

Yes, the contest of ideas is messy. But truth is real. We just have to trust that, in the long run, it is a formidable competitor.

Wodek Szemberg: Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism is reaching a breaking point

Commentary

Sometimes a seemingly small figure carries the weight of far-reaching, transformative power. As of 2020, 3.6 percent of the world’s population did not reside in their birth country. That is roughly 280 million individuals. This statistic encapsulates individual stories and struggles, but also the reshaping of nations and geo-political alliances as global migrations increase.

I belong to this 3.6 percent. There are many more who wish to join me. In 2021, 16 percent of the world’s population, roughly translating to nearly 900 million people, expressed the hope to leave their own country permanently if they could.  

Our current debates about immigration to Canada are, so far, but a pale reflection of the broader global conversation that is increasingly marked by deepening hostility to immigrants. And we are not talking about Denmark, where attitudes towards Muslim immigrants have hardened, even under a female Social Democratic prime minister. Or read about the treatment of migrants in South Africa. In Germany, a former head of domestic intelligence recently said “Germany needed “chemotherapy” to treat the “cancer” of too many immigrants. 

Globalization has done wonders for breaking down xenophobic boundaries at the same time as it provoked—what else?—a pulsating backlash that fuels the populist rage against visible change in their streetscapes. 

Dislike of immigrants might manifest itself as being about race, jobs, or culture. But underneath, it’s about something more basic than that. It’s about xenophobia. One of our most basic instincts. We all have it, to different degrees. No one escapes xenophobia. (That’s what the hunt for “unconscious bias” is all about. There is nothing socially constructed about suspicion of strangers. The discrimination—and therefore bias—that comes with it is not the original sin, as wokeness would like us to believe).

But what we make of it, how we manage our xenophobic tendencies, that is the mark of our civility.

Here in Canada, with the promise of half a million new arrivals each year set against the backdrop of a strained housing market, the subject of immigration remains at the forefront of daily headlines and political debate.

And even though there has been broad political unanimity that has existed so far, it might be wise to consider that it could fray in the future. (Though to be fair, looking at Bernier’s PPC not finding much political traction among the most disgruntled shows how it is still off-putting to most Canadians to use openly anti-immigrant language.)

But that does not mean that in the future Canadians might continue to evade a more demanding discussion about integration of a growing number of immigrants. One of them is whether there could be a tipping point beyond the current 23 percent share of immigrants. After all, Sweden with a 20 percent share of immigrants can certainly be described as having moved beyond a tipping point. (Sweden’s gun crime death rate is now the second highest in Europe).

The first real hint of a tipping point was the recent series of demonstrations regarding the Hamas-Israel conflict. Even though the implicit deal with immigrants is that they leave their home politics behind, some of them have no intention of doing so. And whether it’s Muslims versus Jews, Ethiopians versus Eritreans, or Sikhs using Canada as a platform to wage their war with India, Canada is going to be increasingly tested on whether or not diversity is really our strength.   

Through my journey from Poland through East Germany and Sweden, to ultimately planting my familial roots in Canada in 1973, I have been a witness to the gradual embrace of multiculturalism by English Canada. Its politics and culture have been profoundly affected by it. As a television producer, it was a subject that has held my ongoing attention for the last 43 years—especially as I personally embody this phenomenon; my immediate family traces its various roots to Poland, Sweden, Jamaica, Cuba, and Turkey. Not only do I think about it intellectually, but I live it.

I arrived in 1973 together with 184,200 other strangers that year and I encountered a country that did not speak with one voice in two languages, in which many of its inhabitants identified more with their province than with their country, and where hockey was God. It also had a prime minister who proclaimed a year earlier that “there is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian.”

In this respect, Pierre Trudeau’s Canada was perfect for me. If there is someone who could not be offended by being called a rootless cosmopolitan, that would be me. I didn’t come to Canada to join a community. I came to Canada because of romantic entanglement and an abiding wish to leave Sweden. Not because I was looking for a better life. In this, I’m different from most of my fellow immigrants. My life by all objective criteria was plenty good. I was simply looking for a different life. So, Trudeau’s assurance that there was nothing to emulate was fine with me. I was good with the don’t-do-anything-illegal-and-pay-your-taxes category of Canadian patriotism. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Bhangra dancer Gurdeep Pandher at Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa, on Friday, July 1, 2022. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

But I do not think that this was an unalloyed good for Canada and for the immigrants who settled here. It certainly was good for not upsetting Quebec more than absolutely necessary. But it also contributed to an evisceration of Canadian political and cultural discourse about the future of “Canadian mosaic,” a phrase coined in 1938 but which has since gone out of academic and journalistic fashion after its heyday in the early ’70s. The same thing happened with “multiculturalism.” Neither phrase is intersectional enough. Both hint at an approximation of oneness or unity. It’s the same kind of thinking that leads the president of the Canadian Historical Association to happily proclaim in these pages that “Canada has no single national story—and  that’s a good thing.”    

Justin Trudeau reaffirmed his father’s legacy in an interview with New York Times Magazine in 2015 when he proclaimed that “there is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada,” and that “makes us the first post-national state.”

No roots and no history that coheres except, as of late, a history of colonialist oppression. A post-national state, going by our PM’s record, is one that is responsible for wishing to clean up after the crimes “the nation” has committed.

It takes a certain kind of immigrant to notice that Canada has a way of being inscrutable to outsiders. It took me something like five years of living in Toronto to begin to puzzle together the outlines of what drives Canadian politics. And I did not have a factory job and a family to support. Your average immigrant doesn’t have much time to reflect on the nature of their new country. Most people don’t. Either a country has a narrative to offer to its new citizens or it doesn’t. Having mostly abandoned pride in its historical roots, Canada is hoping for the future to simply reveal the answer to the question “Who are we?”—or if there is even going to be a “We.”

In the meantime, we must worry about housing for new immigrants. And we must hope for a time when more of us show interest in our national story, currently gathering dust in the basement, and the metaphysical and societal nourishment that might still be found there.