Booed in Beauceville: Fake Facebook post sheds light on online Quebec election misinformation
It was a simple screenshot of a text message, posted on a popular Facebook group.
“Legault was in Beauceville today. He went to the restaurant and everyone booed and shouted at him! says the text, in French.
« He must have left before eating. »
Shared more than a thousand times, with almost as many comments, the post made the people of the restaurant applaud by repeating the phrase « Dehors la CAQ ».
Except it didn’t happen.
The leader of the Coalition Avenir Québec, François Legault, was indeed in Beauceville in a restaurant on August 29 but there were no boos and he did not leave in a hurry.
The post is one of many posts on social media that are misleading or outright false, with real consequences for both those who read it and those involved in the event.
Post widely shared on Facebook
The screenshot was posted on the LibreChoix Facebook group, the day after Legault came to Beauceville for a campaign event.
The group, led by Carl Giroux, has more than 55,000 subscribers so far.
Giroux did not respond to numerous interview requests.
He is a prolific poster, often live on his page via his mobile phone, to denounce pandemic-related restrictions like the QR code and mandatory masks.
Lately however, he has thrown his weight behind Éric Duhaime and the Conservative Party of Quebec. The party has distanced itself from Giroux, saying he is not part of its team.
On the post about Legault in Beauceville, some wondered if the post was factual, others found and posted the name of the restaurant.
« All week after the arrival of Mr. Legault, customers of my business asked me ‘Hey, I have a question for you: is it true?' », says Sanika Paquette, owner of Restaurant Le Normandie Swordsman.
« No! Every time, I tell them: ‘tell the others it’s not true!' »
Legault was in town alongside CAQ candidate for the riding of Beauce-Nord, Luc Provençal, and was greeted to cheers by party faithful.
« It’s completely false and I find it regrettable because there is always something negative to say, and that’s not how you advance in society, » Provençal said.
« Once [a false post] starts, it’s hard to stop it. »
Wider narrative of fake messages
Every day, fake or misleading photos, videos and memes are posted online. During an election, the phenomenon is amplified, but it does not necessarily have an impact, explains Mathieu Lavigne, director of the Quebec Electoral Misinformation Project of the Center for Media, Technology and Democracy at the University. McGill.
« If you look for misinformation online, you’ll find it, but it doesn’t tend to have a big impact on elections in general or election results, » he said.
Misinformation seems to stay within small online communities, not necessarily reaching the general public, Lavigne said. Still, he says, false or misleading messages are more likely to be believed if they match your existing beliefs.
“Some people in echo chambers are constantly consuming this kind of information,” he says.
« Individuals should pay close attention to the information they consume and try to avoid their psychological biases. »
But it’s not just the responsibility of individuals, Lavigne says. Social media platforms and politicians also play a role.
Facebook parent company Meta notes that it takes misinformation seriously and removes posts that violate its Community Standards and advertising policies.
It also launched a third-party fact-checking program in 2016. In Canada, the program is run by Agence France-Presse.
But it does not remove fake messages.
“We want to strike a balance between allowing people to have a voice and promoting an authentic environment. When misinformation is deemed false by our fact-checking partners, we reduce its spread within Feed and other surfaces” , writes Meta.