Influence of populism, social media could impact Monday’s result

In her installation speech in 1999, former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson said “To be complex does not mean to be fragmented. This is the paradox of and the genius of our Canadian civilization.”

Clarkson was making a point on the complexity that was the Canadian experience, stating there are two societies in the world today-the forgiving society and the punishing society. Her position was a society like Canada’s “with its four centuries of give-and-take, compromise and acceptance, wrong-doing and redress” is at its base, a forgiving society

“We try – we must try – to forgive what is past. The punishing society never forgets the wrongs of the past. The forgiving society works towards the actions of the future,The forgiving society enables people to behave well toward one another, to begin again, to build a society in hope and with love.”

A society built in hope and love.

If one were to be transported from those days just before the turn of the century to the midst this current federal election campaign, one might think the terms ‘hope and love’ had been eliminated from the Canadian vernacular.

How did Canada wind up in a time and place where the leader of our country had to don a bullet proof vest in order to meet with voters and attend a rally? When did politics and this country become aligned with blood sport where personalties became the principal point of attack and not ideas or plans or policy? When did civil discourse get set aside in favour of a fanning the flames of a civil war drawn along partisan lines?

The answer is as likely as complex as 20th century Canadian civilization but one factor almost certainly has to be a toxic combination of populism streaming into our native land from the south and the prevalence of a ‘wild west’ landscape of social media platforms.

This Thanksgiving Weekend alone, my time line was inundated with exaggerations, half truths and lies about party leaders spawned from the darkness of entrenched social media troll farms that are almost always funded by a ultra politicized organizations or individuals looking to sway public opinion by any means necessary.

The upsetting thing about these guerilla social media tactics is people-everyday Canadians- wind up becoming mercenaries in this fight. A ‘Facebook Friend’ I would say I have a pretty good acquaintanceship with is one such person that’s fallen hook, line and sinker in becoming a soldier of fortune for these propagandist groups. Long before social media, this was a person I enjoyed conversing with. Our talks would never broach politics.

But a steady feed of dark memes and fake news posts that dehumanize leaders and their followers concern me. Does this person really think someone volunteering on a campaign and visiting houses on behalf of a candidate deserves to be shot? Or, at the very least, do they find humour in the stifling of an ideal by threat of violence?

And it’s not just one or two people that have fallen into this trap of spewing falsehoods in an effort to trick an undecided voter and gain some ill-gotten political traction. Facebook especially has become a vast sewer of dehumanizing memes.

Even family relationships are being strained as the polarizing influences of each side becomes mobilized and weaponized in the days of partisan social media.

This newspaper, much like every other news outlet in world, relies social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to reach the eyes of our dear readers. There’s a better than good chance you are reading this space today because you happen to follow the Picton Gazette on one of these apps so simply calling for end to these functions or a boycott would be hypocritical.

We won’t pretend to know what the answer is to this online tribalization that incites division in this country, the only thing we can tell at this point is while Former Governor General Clarkson was right in 1999 that Canada was complex but not fragmented, we worry the same could not be said today Looking around the political landscape today, that paradoxial existence and genius within has started to erode thanks, in part, to the tentacles of social media and its plethora of fake news unencumbered.

We will stop short this week of endorsing a candidate or party as we are still in the infancy of our editorial role in this community.

What we will ask of you the voter is you examine your own knowledge base of each leader and respective party and figure out how this was developed. If it was because a cousin or uncle shared daily doses of propaganda, fake news and lies about a party or a leader, we would ask you to do a little fact checking by examining platforms and voting records to see exactly where everyone stands.

Don’t allow your viewpoint to be compromised.

Our country and your franchise deserves at least that much.

Jason Parks