Opinion by Darren Clarke, February 20, 2022
So… what do we do now?
Yesterday Ottawa Police brought the occupation of Canada’s capital city to an end via more aggressive confrontations with occupiers. Largely they appeared to be successful. That success however was muted by the level of confrontation required to remove the occupation, and moreover, by the reality that the radicalism at the root of the Convoy not only continues, it appears to have been hardened.
The threat remains.
Leaving us with the question- Can Canada maintain self-determination with our communication channels largely compromised?
While many media members wax philosophic about mending the polarized political/cultural divide in Canada the real question is far more simple- How are we going to reconcile the fact that approximately 10%+ of the population was willing to try and overthrow a democratically elected government in order to have their unexplored emotional needs validated? How are we going to deal with the fact they are unwilling to budge from an unchecked set of propaganda talking points?
While Saturday provided little in the way of answers to these questions it supplied much in the way of highlighting the main impediments to Canadians having meaningful conversations with each other.
The Ottawa occupation has provided us a slightly different theme everyday. In my update to Freedom Convoy Unmasked: Who and What the Convoy Represents yesterday we looked at false equivalencies and entitlement. Saturday’s news, generating from the likes of the New York Times, the National Post, the occupiers in Ottawa themselves and an investigation begun in the United States into Facebook’s role in the protests, shed light on the challenges for average Canadians looking to be able to talk with each other about shared concerns.
In this update we’ll look at how the pursuit of clicks, fame and especially profit, have diminished the integrity of our discourse. Conversely, we’ll talk about how the occupiers in Ottawa bullying of media personalities on the ground indicates an increasing threat to honest exchange of perspective and how the weaponization of misinformation via social media algorithms has cultivated a growing demand for dishonest media brokers.
We’ll look at how Canada came to be swamped by media sources working hard to distract from transnational agendas that undercut the average Canadian’s interests. We’ll look at how bogus narratives like imaginary culture wars distract us from meaningful conversations and what, if anything we can do to change that.
To start let’s look at the problem with the desire for clicks and the New York Times article yesterday.
Problem #1– In a World of Clicks, The Most Inflammatory Headline Wins
The New York Times tweeted yesterday–
“Breaking News: The police arrested demonstrators at gunpoint near the Parliament building in Ottawa in an effort to end the weeks long protests.”
The reaction to this latest bit of awful American media reporting was swift and angry. The New York Times after all is supposed to be the very pinnacle of journalism and yet here they were with a wildly misleading headline clearly designed to get clicks.
That, after weeks of tolerating an occupation with a stated goal of toppling an elected government, after handing out warnings, then tickets, before finally, methodically, having the police confront protestors with seldom used batons, made for an “AT GUNPOINT!!!” New York Times headline was deeply disappointing.
Fox News coverage is demonstrably morally bankrupt and dishonest. They have acknowledged what they do isn’t journalism. We get that. We get that Canadians need to talk about foreign misinformation sites poisoning Canadian political discourse. But the lazy display of, “Look at me!” journalism by more highly regarded American media outlets, be it Newsweek or the New York Times has, at times, been as big of a problem for people trying to understand the truth of happenings as purposeful misinformation.
More problematically, I don’t know if the massive negative reaction to the horribly titled New York Times piece taught them anything other than- “Boy we got a lot of clicks there!!!!!”
Problem #2– American Hedge Fund Owned Media– The National Post.
From media for seeking clicks to media advocating a borderless financial elite’s agenda, we come to The National Post.
The National Post is owned by an American hedge fund who first purchased the National Post’s debts and then purchased the paper itself- which, of course, is always going to make paying that debt (and the interest associated with it) first on its’ to do list. That’s the National Post. The National Post doesn’t have to go around twisting arms to provide alt-right friendly writing, it already had lots of alt-right folks in the fold and they continue to supplement that by hiring those most eager to align with a hedge fund friendly agenda.
What is a hedge fund friendly agenda?
The Wild West.
It’s little to no government regulation on anything. It’s as few protections for the average person and the environment from being preyed upon by transnational interests as possible. It’s the maintaining of the status quo for those that are growing rich on the status quo. Among those willing to beat the drum for hedge fund friendly propaganda are John Ivison and Rex Murphy. Why? Probably because there’s money and fame in it.
In a time where humanity is faced with two massive threats of its’ own creation– the pandemic and global warming, the idea that there isn’t an urgent need for humanity to change is preposterous on its’ face. But preposterous defences of the status quo is kind of what the National Post does. Witness John Ivision’s tweet from yesterday–
“It feels like Canada is splintering into two tribes – the intolerant, authoritarian woke lunatics on the left and the spittle-flecked, hateful lunatics on the far-right. Where are the voices of compassion and common-sense? The silent majority needs to speak up.”
John Ivison, National Post, February 19th
Nobody likes perpetuating the idea of a bogus culture war like John Ivison and his newspaper. To believe it however you have to venture into their make believe world where there is a liberal equivalent to a convoy organized by white nationalists and separatists, supported by entitled white people, occupying a capital with a stated goal of overthrowing democratically elected government.
There is no equivalent to that on the left.
Finding Joe Rogan unfunny and uninteresting is not an equivalent. Drinking craft beer and liking bookstores is not an equivalent. Wanting to reconcile past inequality and act urgently on present inequality is not an equivalent. Wanting clean water and rent control is not an equivalent to a coup. Protests attached to hundreds of years of actual systemic racism and police violence is not an equivalent.
Yesterday, Dr. Jordan Peterson announced he had recorded an interview with The National Post’s resident, Shakespeare-on-a-budget, wordsmith Rex Murphy, about the happenings in Canada. Peterson of course become famous for championing resistance to having the decency to reference people by their preferred gender pronoun and by his regular deflecting from the consequences of alt-right hate. Peterson also makes frequent appearances on Joe Rogan’s podcast to discuss such important issues as what colour people really are, i.e., “And [Dyson] was actually not black — he was sort of brown.”
Peterson and Murphy are entirely disinterested in honest conversations. Why? In Murphy’s case there has been past concerns about his relationship with the fossil fuel industry he frequently advocates for, with the Narwal reporting, “First to report on the potential conflict was Press Progress, after analyzing 25 of Murphy’s public speaking engagements.* The outlet found sponsors for Murphy’s pro-oil public appearances included the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, Enbridge, TransCanada and Suncor among others.” Peterson meanwhile has asserted himself into the public domain as a more pretentious alternative to Alex Jones while still appealing to the same demographic and their spending tendencies. He knows who butters his bread. In both cases, the pocketbook designs of Murphy and Peterson lead to them being trapped in an endless cycle of having to appeal to the alt-right tribe’s lust for more tribal warfare.
Being an honest broker of information runs contrary to their self-interest.
That’s why The National Post, Ivison, Murphy, Peterson, need to be removed from public discourse- They have demonstrated a willingness to place their self-interest, coloured by vanity and greed, ahead of everything, especially pursuing the truth.
How to remove disingenuous voices from public discourse while maintaining healthy access to communication channels is a challenge. I don’t pretend there are easy answers here, there aren’t.
Problem #3– The Cult of Media Hate, The “Fake News” Convoy
That the occupation was always in many ways a Trumpesque, MAGA cosplay. That was made evident by the many American flags and pro-Donald Trump banners on display during the occupation. The occupier’s hyper aggressive attitude towards the media on display Saturday was further concerning evidence, particularly given how fairly the occupation was covered at ground level by reporters like Justin Ling, Evan Solomon and Sean O’Shea.
Of the many instances of occupiers stalking, pushing and yelling, at reporters the swarming of the CBC’s Eric Dyer stood out as the most telling, with someone shouting, “Fake News! Fake News!” as they followed threateningly behind Dyer.
Trump slogans have increasingly become part of the alt-right landscape outside America as right wing outlets have recognized how effective they are in consolidating support and how willing people are to use them. Conservative outlets like the National Post and various Postmedia owned news sources lean into Trump friendly narratives regularly. Conservative Party affiliated social media sources like Ontario Proud, Canada Proud, etc. more brazenly dip into that inflammatory pool looking to tap into preexisting call and response training.
Hating the CBC has been a significant point of focus for training Canadians to dismiss their public broadcaster. Conservative leaders, conservative media, regularly attack the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Because the CBC provides the opportunity for meaningful public dialogue. It provides the opportunity for public discourse free of corrupted voices like Rex Murphy, Jordan Peterson, the Rebel News cauldron of hateful little men, and the full gamut of Postmedia’s lineup of suspects looking to cash in on a culture war.
Don’t get me wrong, the CBC ain’t perfect. It has however proven itself to be a vehicle for real, important, communication, between Canadians about matters of national interest. Seeing it vilified by those who would prefer us divided and incommunicado is no surprise. Our division is great for businesses looking to pillage Canada. The distraction of dwelling upon whether or not finding, “Pull my finger jokes!” funny is cancel culture is a boon for transnational looters.
In the end, the CBC, like everything the Toronto Sun, the National Post, Rebel News, Ontario Proud and the Conservative party of Canada tells you to worry about- is about all that’s left to stop Canada from being fully looted. The most important thing Canadians can do right now is support the CBC, loud, long and at the ballot box.
Problem #4– Facebook and Algorithms
There has been much documenting of how right wing interests have used social media sites to launch weaponized misinformation. You can see it in Netflix’s documentaries, The Great Hack and The Social Dilemma. The documenting of Facebook’s willingness to being gamed by the agendas of financial elites to the detriment of various locales right to self-determination. Agendas perpetrated by highly skilled individuals using accumulated data mined from social media users to figure out how to manipulate them, particularly emotionally.
We saw the results on the streets of Ottawa and throughout Canada? Emotion, i.e.- Fuck Trudeau! Fake News! CBC Sucks!
It’s your friends and family and mine, lured in and shackled to an algorithm designed not only to attach them to the right wing mindset, but to close their minds to anything outside of it. That’s why when I post an article for friends and family to consider many of them will, without reading anything, immediately post a Pavlovian response of trained catchphrases and refuse to truly engage in a meaningful exchange of perspectives.
Social media algorithms continually evolve a rigid echo chamber which suggests the only valid ideas are the ones within it. That algorithm is the most effective herding tool used by the modern day right wing cult. When you’ve been told by strangers (and too often bots) thousands of times you are right- who is your brother, your sister, your friend, to tell you anything different? Why listen?
A CBC article yesterday on American politicians investigating Facebook’s role in the convoy noted, “New York Democrat Carolyn Maloney asked Zuckerberg nine questions about the extent to which fake accounts from abroad helped organizers spread the word. The questions include, how many fake accounts Facebook identified related to the “Freedom Convoy”; when it determined they were fake; how many people saw that content; what country it originated from; what countries it was spread in; and how much money Facebook made from associated ads.”
In the end all these concerns about compromised communication channels come down to money. Who is funding the Rebel News hate factory? Who is funding the convoy? What are their interests?
These are the conversations we need to be having if we are going to allow for communities to not be overrun by the interests of a chosen view. But how are we going to have those conversations with our communications channels almost entirely corrupted?
There are no simple answers.
Here’s what I know and what I think we all should have noted these past few weeks-
We need to act urgently, politically and socially, to figure out how to limit misinformation and elevate honest channels for public discourse. We need to act immediately to figure out how to remove foreign influence and financial elites from dictating narratives around what are the most responsible forms of action for our communities.
We need to figure out how to talk with each other, how to listen to each other, how to educate ourselves about important matters. We need to figure out what the impediments are to improving social discourse and find remedies for that. We need to figure out how to deal with the rigid mindset that lead to too many Canadians supporting a convoy organized by known white nationalists with a stated goal of trying to topple a democratically elected government. We need to understand and act upon why our authorities were so sympathetic to that cause.
We need to figure out how not to be at the mercy of clickbait journalism, alt-right propaganda, a fully corrupted Conservative party and the lowest common denominator.
The trucks may be gone but the larger problem remains.