Greetings government readers -

Greetings government readers


Worried about “misinformation,” the government is apparently training bureaucrats to monitor online discussions and interject wherever it is deemed necessary.

The move started recently with a pilot project on the East Coast seal hunt. A Toronto-based company called Social Media Group has been hired to help counter some information put forward by the anti-sealing movement. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has paid the firm $75,000 “to monitor social activity and help identify … areas where misinformation is being presented and repeated as fact,” Simone MacAndrew, a department spokesperson, said in an email…

It appears to be just the beginning. The seal hunt pilot project was set up in part “to establish foundations and recommendations for future programs and campaigns to use social media as another way to listen to, inform and engage with Canadians,” MacAndrew added.


Greetings government readers

  1. I remember Paul Wells saying he suspected some commenters here had government ties, but even he did not suspect there were paid government shills in operation.

    Your tax dollars at work.

  2. Spreading truth in an open and transparent manner is one of the outstanding hallmarks of this government. Once again, the very best aspects of governance derived from a conservative viewpoint are on display!

    • I'm concerned that the government is taking one giant leap down the road to the truth police. And not only that, but they're doing it on my dime.

  3. I have to get something out of my car,,I'll be right back…

    *screeching tires*

  4. Anyone who wasn't aware that this has been done for some years now, just hasn't been paying attention.

    Freeped polls, an entire herd showing up to defend Harper over the most minor of criticisms, constant use of the word 'sponsorship' from the mid-nineties, a daily listing of current Con talking points….it's all been there for some time.

    • While it is more than likely that some of the posters are linked back to the government, don't underestimate the herd dynamics of the Internet.

      Most people (and yes, I include myself in this) often don't come up with their own turns of phrase, but rather latch onto readily available arguments and explanations that they've observed elsewhere — even if they're consciously unaware of doing so. (Though the daily list of talking points is a way of consciously getting those members of the herd likely to rush to your defence on the same page so as to present a unified front rather than what might otherwise turn into Wells' bucket defence.)

      Add in how freeping of polls & pages comes about — a link gets posted somewhere where the majority of members share both similar and strongly held opinions, often with the exhortation that the poll results need to be fixed or somebody needs to correct a discussion that's viewed as being overwhelmingly incorrect when compared to their views — and it becomes no surprise that you see a sudden influx of people all saying the same or similar things.

      I've seen the same thing occur with private discussion sites devoted to niche hobbies, and I'd hardly suggest that those are driven by government agents.

      • There is also the CPT….the Con Protection Team, where data is searched out and deliberately manipulated.

        They believe the media is against them you know, so they 'fix' things.



    • I knew it!

    • Amateur.

    • The best defence is a good offence.

      Selling, selling. Very good. Very good. (hand tilting quickly) Oh, wicked. Wicked. You're wicked. Eh? Know what I mean. Know what I mean? Nudge nudge. Know what I mean? Nudge nudge. Nudge nudge. (leaning over to him, making eye gesture; speaks slowly) Say…no…more. (leans back as if having imparted a great secret).


  6. This really depends on the manner of monitoring and the methods of interjection. If they're reading blog posts and comment threads, I don't really view that as an issue, because it's opinions put out specifically for public consumption. Now, if they're jumping into the discussion, they should identify themselves as paid government agents, just as they would in any other medium.

    Of course, if that monitoring involves anything beyond what any schmuck with a computer and internet connection can access, then that's more than crossing a line…

  7. I know someone who does this and it's not nearly as nefarious as you think. They always identify who they are (as if you couldn't tell from the bureaucratese). Now who knows what they get up to on the political side.

    • Re: "They always identify who they are…"

      You'll excuse me if I am a bit skeptical of this given the number of recent incidents where Conservative MP's staff have been caught peddling the government line to the media without identifying their affiliation.

      Nevertheless, the main question is: Is paying PR flacks and propagandists a good use of taxpayer's money? I imagine most Canadians would say "no".

      • Hey, I can only vouch for this one person, and I'm not talking about a political staffer.

      • How about the misinformation spread about by the US softwood lumber lobby? You don't think Canadians would back the government fighting fire with fire?

    • Always identify who they are?

      Can you post a link to one such self-IDing shill?

      • Not with that sort of language

  8. It has some scary Big Brother potential, to be sure, but I think if they are identifying themselves then it is no different than a government ad that counters misinformation out there about, say, a health issue.

    It is fundamentally critical though that the conduct be absolutely transparent. Even then there is danger: once the infrastructure and process is established, how hard is it to make exceptions and circumvent the transparency on special issues and occasions, and then do so regularly, and then do so all the time.

    My biggest question though, is whther this new counter-information policing get applied to Harper's own speeches and press releases?

    • I think it is different than running a government ad intended to "spread the news", and I say that because:

      1. Government ads that provide information are designed based on the most important points in the issue being advertised, and then tailored based on results of research that indicates what individuals' concerns are regarding that issue. The important points don't change, and the research results that lead to the tailoring (or framing of messages) -are replicable, provided of course that the research is methodologically sound.
      2. Responses to "misinformation" on blogs are ad-hoc, and may not be replicable. To say that they'd actually be responding adequately (or even accurately) to "misinformation", without actually testing it out in a controlled environment, is irresponsible.

      • (continued)
        3. Blogs do not dictate government policy, are not (by and large) subject to journalistic rules of practice, and their readers represent a small sub-segment of a population. Tailoring government responses (which take government time and taxpayer dollars) to these small sub-segments is of limited value in a broad and diverse opinion environment, in particular, when those responses may be wasted on trying to convert people you'd never convert anyhow.
        4. Government ads aren't run with the message that "if you don't believe what we are saying, then you're wrong and should shut up." These responses to "misinformation" on blog posts are.

        Using communications firms, PR firms, research firms, whathaveyou, to look into what people are saying on message boards and blogs, and then testing out what those people are saying in broader public research, would give a better measure of what's needed in terms of response, and would probably do so to greater effect.

  9. But they can't interject at committees to correct misinformation.

  10. The Ministry of Truth. Brought to you by John Baird.

  11. I've got no problem with it as long as
    (1) They identify themselves and their role, and
    (2) They stick to factual corrections.

    I think we could all (myself included) use more fact-checking around here.

    However, if they're going to go beyond facts and start casting opinion, I don't want to pay for it. That had better come out of the party's coffers, not the government's. Otherwise it starts to look a lot like the CBC. And I loathe the CBC.

    • For a conservative, you sometimes give personal approval to some really weird spending projects.

      • Touché, Monsieur T.

  12. I find this very entertaining, as I think the Canadian government is mostly responsible forspreading misinformation about the seal hunt in the first place. Statements like "we don't kill baby seals" are very misleading when then truth is that most of the seals killed are less than 3 months old. I think that meets the criteria of a "baby" in most people's minds.
    My other favourite is their line about the seal hunt being well regulated and monitorred, which is a joke. They do almost no monitoring on the front, which is where most of the seals die. The only monitoring that is done is conducted by the animal welfare groups!

    I think it's high time that all of this taxpayer money they're spending went to retrain sealers into other professions. Heck – i'd rather they just give the sealers all of this money each year and call off the seal hunt all together! They are just pouring money into a dying industry and it disgusts me that one penny of my tax dollars is going toward propping up this disgusting, outdated and irrelevant industry!

    • Have any facts to back up your claims of misinformation? Proof that "most of the seals killed are less than 3 months old?"

  13. I wonder how Social Media Group identified themselves on discussion boards?


    At best, it's a stupid waste of money. Is there any evidence to suggest that the content of discussion boards seriously shifts public perception or opinion in a meaningful way?

    • Is there any evidence to suggest that the content of discussion boards seriously shifts public perception or opinion in a meaningful way?

      None whatsoever.

      • Well said Crit. your post has convinced me.

        • Perhaps I could also convince you to try some tasty seal flesh? It has this nutty, oily, fishy flavour that dances on your tongue.

          • Anything but frogs, eh?

          • Frog legs are overrated. They taste like chicken, but they cost ten times as much.

        • There's evidence to suggest it, but I can't find anything (yet) to prove it.

          I also maintain that blog readership is among a small subsegment of the population, but haven't found any numbers on that specific question yet (but if I remember, will post when I do.)

          • Interesting. That certainly confirms that a) the internet is fast becoming the preferred media source for information, and that b) almost hallf of those who use on-line sources like sites where they can participate in discussions.

            I suppose the core question is whether engagement in on-line discussions has much effect on individual's perceptions/opinions? My gut sense is that most people tend to seek out things that confirm their world views, and that most discussion board debates rarely seem to change anyone's mind. But I fully acknowledge I might be wrong (and hasten to add that I always try to keep an open mind, and have indeed rethought some of my own positions based on discussions I've had or read on these boards).

          • My gut agrees with your gut, Sean, though I'd love to be wrong on this one.

            It is indeed a budding research field…questions of blog/new media's influence on opinion are worming their way into social engagement research (perhaps because those heavily engaged in the blogosphere aren't just sitting in mom's basement in their underpants, anymore), but really, it's still in its infancy.

            If someone would pay me, I'd do a study on it. I promise to peer-review and publish…

    • If advertizing works, I don't see why advertizing on a comment board wouldn't.

      • That's "advertiSing" – this is Canada, where we call it zed and we use it zeldom..:-)

      • True enough, but I'd sure love to see some evidence. It'd be easy enough to include a poll question probing the salience of on-line discussion boards to personal perspective and opinion, as compared to newspaper editorials, television ads, etc…

        • Who needs evidence when you have the weight of all these anonymous commenters' half-baked opinions?

          I kid…I kid… yes, it would be very interesting to see the relative influence of this medium versus others.

          • For whatever a Google-gloss is worth (or not) it looks like a lot of the more empirical polling work is directed toward learning preferred media sources (which makes sense, that's how you sell space to advertisers), whereas the more detailed (and academic) examination of influence and meaning is more abstract (Chomsky, Habermas kind of stuff). It may well be an interesting question that hasn't been explored yet.

  14. Huh. So the seal hunt challenge was to "help identify … areas where misinformation is being presented and repeated as fact."

    I have a growing suspicion that the new mandate will be to help identify areas where facts are being presented, and repeat misinformation. Heck, people here do it for free every day.

  15. By government, do you refer to the 145 or so Conservative MPs, or the more traditional definition of government meaning the 250,000 feddle gubmint workers? Don't try to hang this on Harper, this is an initiative of bureaucrats and their anti-taxpayer unions.

    That aside, I really don't like the idea of people on the public dime engaging with regular everyday citizens, I'll go further and say it's a very bad idea. I've seen it twice: a CBC blogger began commenting on Conservative blogs attacking conservatives (naturally) and was promptly told to take a hike. He was last seen saying he'd ask his producer if it was OK. Another time an RCMP member, probably liquored up, jumped into a debate on a blog in which fairly tame criticisms of the RCMP were being made and he got pretty aggressive. The optics of an RCMP, or any public servant, attacking regular everyday folks on their blogs are awful.

    Oh, and I forgot about Garth Turner. I actually got cyber-stalked by him once while he was a sitting Liberal MP, but that is a story for another day…

    • Oh no please, we have time. Tell your story now my good man.

  16. In the interest of transparency and avoiding any hint of misinformation, they will be identifying themselves as govt employees, right?

  17. People are focusing here on the online stuff, but think about it, folks: far more insidious stuff has been going on for many years now in other contexts and other media — the big one that jumps out at me is partisan shills phoning into those radio call-in shows and pretending to be "just ordinary folks". And unlike most online comment boards like these, a lot of those radio call-in shows are extremely popular. This is one of the side stories coming out of the current Basi/Virk trial in B.C., i.e., the Campbell government was doing this, and I think everyone with a brain knows that the major political parties all do some version of this — "getting out the message" etc.

    • Good points.

      Though I think there's a fair distinction to be made between party hacks doing that stuff on their own time, and paid government employees wasting time (and our money) on discussion boards.

      • Not to worry Sean, there have been some automated programs developed that produce near human-like responses without requiring any input from a thinking person. The first generation was the Bad Information Feeding Forumula which was followed up by the Just A Righteous Redneck Idiot Disseminating. Apparently these two programs are currently undergoing beta testing.

        • LOL!!!

          Though to be fair, jarrid's been much less dogmatic of late (which is great, because s/he has some interesting insights).

          Unless that means the pseudoynm has simply been inherited by another staffer?…

        • Not to mention the prototype for those two programs, the Kady O Dissing Yahoo.

        • It just occurred to me that they'll probably come up with programs with automatic bad grammar, typos, blathering incomprehensibility/insanity, etc.

        • Note how the left views righteous as a pejorative. Genuinely scary stuff.

          The Atheist Left has hijacked the Liberal party. They reek of nihilism, and that is why they are doing so poorly. Canadians don't seem to mind Iffy except when he opens his mouth or threatens to topple the moderate, pragmatic government of the Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper.

          • LOL! That's funny stuff!

          • I think it needs some fine-tuning

          • Wow, thanks for correcting the misinformation! Who knew about that insidious atheist left and their hijacking, nihilistic ways? One can sense, thanks to your efforts, that opinion regarding the totally moderate, fully pragmatic, fastidiously responsible and wholly accountable government of the Right Honourable Stephen Joseph Harper shifting to the super-stratospheric positive! Huzzah!

  18. Here is how the Government of Alberta is dealing with the problem. Not sure if they are still making the effort….

  19. The Canadian government constantly misrepresents the commercial seal hunt, presenting untruths and misinformation as "fact" on its website. The Minister of Fisheries and Prime Minister have constantly complained to media that anti-sealing campaigners lie, when in fact it's the government telling the lies. The huge lie is that the annual slaughter humane and monitored. Neither is true. I've been observing and documenting the killing for four years and can testify it is neither humane nor adequately monitored. Yet that is exactly what the government employees "trained in online posting" are claiming, as well as the myths populations are out of control and seals must be killed to save fish stocks (both myths with no basis in reality). Government employees are trained and paid to tell lies online and discredit people presenting the true facts – facts the govt does not want anyone to know or believe.

    • OH ya?
      well I bet you are an under cover agent for the anti-seal hunt or something – ya can't fool me

    • So how would you humanely kill seals Bridget? Regardless of what government tells the public I want to know how you would approach this issue and control the seal population if that is possible.

      • Some combination of signing most of them up with World of Warcraft accounts, and seal condoms for the rest.