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For as long as conservatives have waged culture wars in Canada they’ve complained the media and information landscape on which they fight those battles is biased against them. This is mostly self-serving fiction, given the editorial boards of our country’s newspapers consistently, and often overwhelmingly, endorse the conservative party of the moment.

But a pair of recent reports about the bias built into our social media networks should make the rest of us sit up and take notice.

Facebook’s inherent friendliness towards conservative causes is no secret to anyone who paid close attention to the 2020 presidential campaign. As Politico reported last September, “the Facebook posts with the most engagement in the United States most days — measured by likes, comments, shares and reactions — are from conservative voices outside the mainstream media.”

An anonymous Facebook executive suggested this was because “right-wing populism is always more engaging.” But the truth, as former employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen recently testified at a U.S. congressional hearing, is that the company’s algorithm is biased towards content that fans the flames of hatred and anger. “I am deeply concerned that they have made a product that can lead people away from their real communities and isolate them in these rabbit holes and these filter bubbles,” she said.

Twitter, it seems, isn’t much better on this front. According to a recent internal study of which content performs best on the platform, conservatives enjoy a built-in advantage here as well. "In six out of seven countries, tweets posted by political-right elected officials are algorithmically amplified more than the political left,” Twitter’s Rumman Chowdhury told the BBC. “ Right-leaning news outlets ... see greater amplification compared to left-leaning.”

Stoking grievances

That doesn’t appear to have anything to do with who’s in power at the time, either. “For example,” the study noted, “in the United Kingdom amplification favors the governing Conservatives, while in Canada the opposition Conservative Party of Canada is more highly amplified.” And where is this amplification effect most noticeable? Right here, in Canada, where Conservative voices are amplified nearly four times as much (167 per cent to 43 per cent) as Liberal ones.

Mainstream media has always favoured the conservative right. Now Facebook and Twitter are continuing that tradition. #extremism #mediabias @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver

If you want to understand why this matters and the impact it can have on democracy, look no further than the recent gubernatorial election in Virginia. In a state that went heavily for Joe Biden in 2020, the Democratic candidate was just defeated by Republican Glenn Youngkin, who spent much of the campaign talking about something that isn’t even taught in the state's schools: critical race theory (CRT). CRT examines how racism is embedded in everything from the criminal justice and banking systems to the labour and housing markets, but Republicans have successfully misrepresented it as an attack on white people — and used it to once again stoke the embers of the white grievance politics that helped elect Donald Trump.

Biden’s growing unpopularity, along with the general ineptitude of Democrats in Congress, were clearly contributing factors here. But so too was the steady diet of bullshit that Virginia voters were fed about the misrepresented theory. As former Obama administration staffer and Crooked Media show co-host Dan Pfeiffer wrote, “There is not a single student being taught CRT anywhere in the world, let alone Virginia. Yet, Youngkin was able to make a fake issue very real to Virginia voters.”

He was able to do that because of the combination of a right-wing media ecosystem that churns out misinformation and a pair of hugely influential social media platforms that continue to amplify it. “The right wing is able to create an alternative reality and then offer solutions to fake problems that people believe are Democrats’ fault,” Pfieffer wrote. “CRT probably played less of a role than a lot of pundits suggest, but the fact that Youngkin was able to make it an issue should be a giant warning sign about what is to come in 2022.”

More conflict ahead

It should be a warning sign to progressives in Canada as well. After all, while conservatives here have failed to recreate the kind of right-wing media ecosystem that thrives in the United States, it’s not for a lack of trying. Just because our country’s right-wing proxies aren’t as skilled at creating an alternate media universe as their American peers doesn’t mean they can’t get better at it — or that they’re not doing that as we speak.

The implications here also go well beyond the realm of partisan politics. Whether it’s our collective response to climate change or our attitudes towards vaccinations and other public health measures, these conversations are taking place more than ever on Twitter and Facebook. If we can’t trust them to elevate facts over fiction, we’re at risk of watching the informational water we all drink get poisoned by bad-faith actors. And if conservatives can invent grievances whole-cloth, as they have with CRT, and use social media to weaponize them against their political enemies, then we’re headed for a new dark age.

It doesn’t have to be this way, of course. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook can adjust their algorithms to elevate good information over bad, truth over lies, and expertise over conspiracies. But so far, the monetary incentives don’t seem to be leading them in that direction. If governments don’t step in and act soon, they may find themselves dealing with far bigger problems in the future.


Keep reading

Dismissing parental concerns in Virginia as the result of right wing propaganda is a pretty weak explanation for what happened there last week. Many schools are using elements of CRT to divide students according to race, assigning positive and negative qualities of various people by race, and asking kids, even in elementary school, to acknowledge their role in the history of racism. And parents were told this curriculum was none of their business if they questioned it. Also worth considering is that it was the left not the right that brought up the whole idea of CRT in social discourse, as part of the favoured oppressor/oppressed narrative that dominates so much discussion these days. The right has been opportunistic in latching on to its excesses, but that doesn't mean there haven't been excesses or that they're not widespread.

And if you're going to talk about media bias, then how about the almost total ban in much of the media when it comes to discussing how gender id policies in schools in Virginia and elsewhere were also an issue. Most of Canadian media censors this discussion as well. I expect more balanced reporting from NO.

CRT was not taught in schools in Virginia, this was a right-wing talking point to fuel fear. It was never taught and there were no plans to add to the curriculum except perhaps college. Your comment absolutely proves the article accurate.

You say it isn't; I say it is. Well argued.

You're completely ignoring the fact that Critical Race Theory is true though, and accurate.
It's like teaching kids here about what happened in the residential "schools;" I never learned that, did you? And we should have, because it happened.
And the stuff on gender? Also true; whether it's been exacerbated by the excess of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our environment or not we can't be sure, but gender has always been on a continuum. I'd say that ANYTHING that broadens our definition of what it is to be human is an addition, and is interesting as hell. At least to open-minded people it is....

The issue is not whether the horrific history of race relations should be taught. It should be and to some extent has been. As a teacher, I taught Alice Walker, Tony Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and other Black writers starting back in the 80s and 90s. The issue is how this subject is taught. Education based on CRT suggests we should always emphasize students' race and downplay individuality. It essentially rejects MLK's famous line that we should judge people by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin. It I don't think emphasizing race is helpful and to better relations and see no evidence that it has.

As for gender, my point is that it isn't even discussed in much of the media. That gender exists along a spectrum is no doubt true. There have been lots gender non-conforming people forever. The issue not being discussed is whether gender is the same as sex. I don't think they are the same.

The issue is not whether the horrific history of race relations should be taught. It should be and to some extent has been. As a teacher, I taught Alice Walker, Tony Morrison, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes and other Black writers starting back in the 80s and 90s. The issue is how this subject is taught. Education based on CRT suggests we should always emphasize students' race and downplay individuality. It essentially rejects MLK's famous line that we should judge people by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin. It I don't think emphasizing race is helpful and to better relations and see no evidence that it has.

As for gender, my point is that it isn't even discussed in much of the media. That gender exists along a spectrum is no doubt true. There have been lots gender non-conforming people forever. The issue not being discussed is whether gender is the same as sex. I don't think they are the same.

This article shows various shots of Virginia Dept of Ed encouraging the use of CRT in the schools. https://www.iwf.org/2021/11/02/fact-check-is-critical-race-theory-being-...

Making suggestions in one
school is not the same as having crt on the state curriculum. SMH.

Did you look at the Dept of Ed docs shown in the link above that I shared? I have no problem with principles of CRT being taught as long as it's only one way that race is discussed in the classroom, and not the only way.

"Embracing critical race theory" is not the same as teaching it. In British Columbia's schools, teachers embrace all sorts of educational philosophies and theories (child-centred learning, for example), but we don't *teach* them to students. They inform our practice.

So unless the parents in Virginia are literally saying they don't want their children to learn America's racial history through a critical thinking lens (presumably to maintain the status quo, which is what schooling is all about unless we teach kids to question that status quo), then those parents are just parroting what they've been told to get riled up about.

I'm sure it's more nuanced than just the two choices of "racist" or "gullible due to lack of media literacy and critical thinking skills" but that's what it looks like from the outside, to me at least. (I find it interesting that both of those traits in that generation of parents could have been mitigated by a curriculum *informed* by CRT.)

p.s. I'm not sure a website that boasts rabidly anti-Democrat government headlines is the best (well, most balanced) source for your information. "Join the Independent Women's Forum. Invest In Our Cause To Help Advance Women's Freedoms & Opportunities. Texas Abortion Case Raises Important Federalism Issues [Note: not "women's freedom issues]."

But I'm grateful for the wry chuckle, seeing a parent holding up two signs at a meeting: We the Parents Stand Up! and I Cannot and Will Not Be Silenced. Can you imagine what would have happened not that long ago in the United States of America if Americans with darker skin tones had dared to "rise up" like that? It's got me thinking that angry non-BIPOC Americans perhaps think the "critical" in critical race theory means "critical of white people." Otherwise, why does painting a truer picture of American history upset these people so freaking much?

I'm genuinely curious about something that you sound knowledgeable about. Do you think you can effectively teach critical thinking or is it one of those attributes like "people skills" where you kind of have them or you don't? Because I'm stunned lately by how many people don't seem to be able to even think straight, period, let alone critically.

Dear Mr. Morgan
As an ex-pat American (holding both US and Canadian passports,) I take issue with some of the content of your comment. Whatever CRT is - I am not a student of it - It is not, apparently what you are describing. I went to school in the '40s and '50s in a quite good public school system (there were multiple PHDs in my high school) but in retrospect, living in a lily white NJ community - with perhaps less than a dozen black students in my high school, my social studies, civics and history courses never once touched on the very different experiences or history of our black population. Naturally I would hope that deficit has been addressed throughout the U.S. and that the lives of all our citizens of colour are being recognized . What you describe as virtual indoctrination is merely an attempt to enlarge the deficient imagination of the privileged white people, in the face of what is likely an incomprehensible upwelling of revolt by the marginalized. For far too many white Americans who live in a bubble it takes something - even a simulated experience of oppression to gain a glimmer of their own self entitlement.
The REAL indoctrination has and continues to be peddled by the white supremacist load of trash talking. The question everyone on earth is, or should be asking is, WHY do white people act so bombastic, assume they were born to rule the world? The dismal history of white colonialism and white economic aggression that has ravaged every continent on earth, erasing the cultures and lives of everyone else, is the proximate cause.

Spot on.

If you haven't looked into CRT then I don't think you're accurately responding to my comments. Please take a look at my comment above for more explanation. I have no problem whatsoever with kids being educated about the horrible things colonization did to both indigenous and Black people. The issue is how this topic is presented. I do take exception to what you say above which suggests that all white people are evil and exploitative. I don't believe that is true, yet that, in part, is what CRT asks us to accept, and when this idea is presented to children, I think it's abusive. How can you hold a child responsible in any way for what his ancestors did? I think our goal in education and in society generally is for all of us get along as equals and I think a lot of progress has been made in this area.

Again we are faced with proof that the enemy of us all is the conservatives among us.
A new chilling article on the algorithm....
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/12/ai-ad-technology-si...

Seen CBC.ca's comment section lately?
Overrun by right-wing bots parrotting Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and oil industry talking points.

I imagine a large room somewhere with a sizable army of CPC / CAPP zombies in short pants seated at cubicles and armed with keyboards plugging up CBC's comment sections with their manic vitriol and upvoting each other's posts.
Not for nothing did CBC shut down commenting on its Facebook pages.

Why are they complaining? It is a simple matter of perspective, revealed by the use of the word "homeland." Inside a home, we expect information to be controlled by benign, wise elders to help the children grow, the sick recover, and conflicts to be minimized. They don't like the rules of the commons, where objective facts matter more.

While I agree with you, I feel I must point out that the win by the Republican in Virginia was entirely predictable. In EVERY gubernatorial election immediately following a Presidential election in both Virginia and New Jersey, going back to the first Bush, the party opposite that of the President has won. In fact, by holding New Jersey, Biden is one up on the lot of them! That this defeat in Virginia is evidence of some disaster about to overtake the Democrats is more evidence of media buy in to sensationalism over facts.

Good point and small swings in the vote can go a long way to throwing out incumbents.

Yeah? Why is it that elections in the States are more like fever dreams or something? Or a popularity contest in high school?

They're complaining because they can. It works precisely because it's a lie. The left gets censored constantly, but it doesn't do us any good to bitch about it because that too gets either censored or mocked.
But conservative can get away with their whining precisely because they in fact have powerful amplification of what they say, so they can shout down anyone who points out that they are not, in fact, being muzzled. And their audience believes it because they want to. The whole conservative brand is always about fostering grievance, rage and outrage, but only about certain kinds of issues. The grievances are usually downright false; sometimes they aren't, but then they will be irrelevant.
Basically, all Conservative grievances have to be something that will distract them from the actual sources of their problems--specifically, corporations and the hyper-wealthy. "The liberals are muzzling us!!!" works fine.

It should be noted that in the US, there is bipartisan use of that approach, largely in foreign policy. So for instance, US media discussions of Venezuela, whether liberal or conservative, routinely, in a country dominated by private media opposed to the left wing government, in which frequent support is given on air and in the largest circulation newspapers to politicians pushing for violent insurrection, claim that the government has taken over and/or muzzled the press.