Researchers explore disinformation during the Quebec election campaign

A group of researchers from McGill University conducted a study on online disinformation and the possible effects on the provincial election campaign and say the findings have implications for the future of our democratic process.

« They’re actually more concerned about misinformation than climate change or disease outbreaks, for example, » said Mathieu Lavigne, project director of the Canadian Election Misinformation Project.

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That was the conclusion of the Pew Research Center earlier this year, but Lavigne says the fear was echoed by more than 3,000 people polled during the Quebec election campaign.

« I think part of the reason they’re worried, » researcher Maxime Blanchard explained, « is that they have a hard time identifying what’s misinformation and what’s factual information. »

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Blanchard was responsible for leading the five-week survey, in which his team aimed to assess the impact of misinformation on voters.

Lavigne said he found numerous lies centered around three themes: the pandemic, polls and the media, suggesting there is collusion to skew poll results.

The third theme was the election and the voting process.

For example, there were questions about the use of pencils issued by Élections Québec to vote.

“People think their vote will be erased and a pen (will) be used to write out what they put on their ballot,” researcher Ella Noel told Global News. His role was to track fake news online.

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Elections Quebec has information on its website explaining why this is not plausible.

What the researchers found, however, was that most of the misinformation was confined to small online communities and did not reach the public.

“We are confident that this will not have a material impact on the election results,” Lavigne said.

Still, the team argues that online misinformation and not knowing what to trust on social media is concerning.

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“We should have a collective discussion about whether we should be more in control of the information circulating on social media,” Blanchard said.

Getting social media companies to report fake news better is one example, he added. Lavigne believes that Elections Quebec also has a role to play.

« If they provide more information about the voting process, it can help educate people, » he said.

He stressed that voters must have confidence in the information they receive in order to have confidence in their democracy and the electoral system.

The research team will publish its findings in early 2023.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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