by Ian Noble | Vancouver Sun

April 10, 2019

Ian Noble: Fake news — our worry is real

Ian Noble of Edelman Vancouver. The communications and marketing company's annual Trust Barometer shows that people are returning to traditional media and more concerned about "fake news" on social media.

“Fake news” is a relatively new and difficult term for Canadians to define. It can be subversive (propaganda and disinformation campaigns), neglectful (shoddy journalism and thoughtless sharing of social media), or dismissive (disagreement with an opinion). In just a few years, it has already been blamed for damaging public discourse, threatening democracy and destroying civility.

While we may not agree on its definition, people around the world see fake news as a worrisome force. Globally, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual trust survey that samples more than 33,000 respondents across 27 markets, shows that 73 per cent of people worry about false information being used as a weapon. In Canada, with a federal election on the horizon, 71 per cent have the same concern.

Fake news is a destructive force and our environment is purpose-built for its development and dissemination. It’s not just that social media provides a new and ubiquitous platform for distribution, it’s that there is no arbiter of what is and isn’t true at a time when people are worried and vulnerable.

We fear job loss due to lack of skills and training and the automation of the workforce. International conflicts, trade wars, global migration and the issues of our day — think Brexit, foreign influence on elections and even SNC-Lavalin — reveal how difficult it is to determine what is real. In fact, 63 per cent of our trust barometer respondents agreed that the average person does not know how to tell good journalism from rumours or falsehoods.

So where do we turn and how do we combat fake news? People around the world are turning to voices that have traditionally been associated with authority.

In 2019, the barometer tracked a rise in engagement with news and a flow to more trusted news sources. Globally, 72 per cent of people consume news weekly or more compared to just 50 per cent in 2018. In Canada, the story is similar, with 68 per cent consuming news weekly or more compared to 47 per cent last year.

But where people turn to for “reliable” news is different around the world. Globally, 66 per cent trust search engines, 64 per cent trust traditional media and 44 per cent trust social media. Not in Canada, where traditional media is the most trusted source (71 per cent) while social media is least trusted (31 per cent).

There is probably no word whose definition has change more since Edelman started its trust survey nearly two decades ago than “media.” Ninety-two per cent of Canadian respondents said “media” included sources where journalists produce content, 20 per cent include influencers, and 35 per cent include brand content on company websites and advertising. For many people, “media” now includes the social, search and other platforms that distribute news and information.

Not only are Canadians turning to traditionally trusted media, they are seeking credentialed people for credible information. In fact, Canadians consider spokespeople such as technical experts, academics and financial industry analysts among the most credible. Among the least? CEOs, board directors and government officials.

Still, as we approach a critical election that will set our collective agenda for up to five years, fully 33 per cent of Canadians remain disengaged, consuming news less than once a week. It’s better than the 54 per cent who were disengaged in 2018, but hardly encouraging.

The federal government has appointed government leaders from security, justice, public safety and global affairs to inform Canadians about concerning online content during the upcoming campaign. However, we know that we will be subjected to a barrage of misinformation, disinformation and “fake news” in coming months. Are we prepared?

Ian Noble is a vice president with Edelman Vancouver, a communications and marketing firm that has been in B.C. for more than 35 years. This op-ed series is a supporting part of SFU Public Square’s 2019 Community Summit: Confronting the Disinformation Age, running April 10 to 18.

This article was published by Vancouver Sun  on April 10, 2019