In Our Words: Keep an eye out for bull this election season

We’re in the midst of what some people call “the silly season” – the summer months when the news cycle slows down - the dog days. That feeling extends to politics, and in Manitoba, with not one, but two major elections in the coming months, that silly feeling can sometimes be found in our political discourse.

The candidates have mostly been picked, but formal debates haven’t been held and the elections are still a while off. Anything mentioned around this time of year will mostly be forgotten by election time, so this is when the true craziness starts to come out. When politicians look for headlines and to raise awareness and campaign cash.

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With political figures beginning to make public statements and share their platforms, how can you separate what’s true from what’s not? Here are some tips for spotting possible bogus stories.

In any political coverage or statement, remember the golden rule – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t believe attacks right away. Look up the issues for yourself if you can.

Pay attention to quality and timeliness. Are there a bunch of spelling and grammar errors? Was this story written or posted online months or even years ago?

Consider the source. Who’s telling you this? A Facebook burner account for memes and hot takes? Your loony uncle who rants about Jews at Thanksgiving? Is it an actual news organization? Those all play a big role in whether or not something should be believed.

If you’re going to share news online or leave a comment, read the thing first. It sounds easy, but more people than you’d think don’t exert the effort to reach their finger up their phone screen to tap on the article or scroll their mouse up to click on something and actually read. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve written an article, published it in the paper and posted it online, then had someone in the comments section asking or speaking incorrectly about something that’s actually answered in the article. Don’t be that person.

Check who’s quoted, what information is cited and pay attention to where you found the piece. Both the good and the bad thing about the internet is that anyone can post on it.

Facebook is currently in hot water with governments around the globe for its role in spreading false information during elections in multiple different countries. As a platform, Facebook is perfect for spreading gossip and bull, but it’s not always the best for finding true, well researched stories.

If you want a second opinion, go to a fact-checking website. Websites like Snopes.com, Factscan.ca and others can be instrumental. For Factscan, they post full explanations behind each story they dissect and their grading system is readily available online.

For example, check these two recent statements from Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, as analysed by Factscan. Back in March, Scheer tweeted gas prices will increase by 11 cents a litre by 2022 due to carbon taxes. Factscan.ca analysed that statement and labelled it “misleading”, saying that while gas prices in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec will likely increase before 2022, carbon tax-related increases from the federal carbon backstop will be “short of 11 cents per litre.”

Meanwhile, Factscan.ca did credit a Scheer statement from question period in February as true – saying government ministers found breaking federal finance rules have had to pay back the money they spent. Factscan said that there is an informal precedent to pay back at least some travel costs when deemed excessive.

Here’s a point for online decorum – avoid reverting to personal attacks because someone wrote something true you don’t like. This sounds obvious, but it truly isn’t for people who are invested in something. 

Just because someone does not agree with you on a point of policy does not mean they are an idiot or somehow evil. The odds are good that they have a good reason to think what they think, and a constructive dialogue can be useful. There are plenty of stances that shouldn’t be taken seriously – things that are deliberately meant to stoke anger at minority groups, for example. The trick is not only to know how to argue, it’s how to pick your battles. You likely won’t win with a troll. Your engagement has already meant that the troll has won. Don’t let them run up the score.

When you’ve become so engrossed in politics that you think anything that goes against your existing ideas must be fake, a summary execution of the messenger is an easy step.

In my time at The Reminder, I’ve been accused of being a far-left shill, a right-wing ideologue, a racist, a reverse racist, an anti-environmentalist and “pinko green loony” - that one’s still my favourite. 

People will project whatever they don’t like onto the person reporting the news. Don’t do that. It’s lazy. Speaking for myself, I don’t believe it’s our job to tell you how to think or how to vote. Our job is to provide you with the best information we can, so you can go into the voting booth well informed about who each candidate is and where they stand.

Between now and election day, you will see question and answer sessions with the candidates here. Tough questions will be asked, because any politician who can’t answer tough questions probably shouldn’t be running in the first place. We won’t respond to every media release every party puts out – nobody has time for that – but we will curate whatever we find that has relevance to the north and to you.

We’ll do our best to get the straight dope to you, but when you find something online, remember – consider the source.

 

 

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