1 of 9 Fake News Virus | How to make Quebec Canada a more rational country

Around the world, there is concern about the spread of fake news. This series gives the floor to professionals from several countries to shed light on this issue that appears to threaten democracy. This file was prepared by Jean-Philippe Warren, Quebec Studies Chair at Concordia University.


Joseph HeathJoseph Heath
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto

Jean-Philippe Warren: How do we explain the rise of fake news?

Joseph Heath: Fake news reflects the dynamics of social media and the way news is reproduced on these platforms.

Gary King, Jennifer Pan, and Margaret Roberts all have published an interesting article on social media manipulation in China. They analyzed millions of messages posted on social media by people paid for by the Chinese government.

The three researchers found that these millions of messages cannot be described in traditional advertising terms. It was not, in fact, promoting the party line or spreading lies. These were attempts almost exclusively to distract the conversation in order to impede people’s ability to engage on certain issues.

That’s what Steve Bannon is [ex-conseiller de Donald Trump] It’s called, in somewhat cliched language, “disgusting the area”.

Compared to the Americans, Canadians tend to view themselves as more rational. Do we believe them?

I do not rule out a priori that one nation is more rational than another. Rationality is, in my opinion, a collective achievement.

On the eighteenthe Century, during the Age of Enlightenment, the mind was present somewhere in our brain. Therefore rationality was considered the responsibility of the individual. Each person had the task of independently conquering the forces of tradition and superstition.

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However, it is very difficult to be rational on your own. Rationality relies heavily on a community of people arguing and arguing amongst themselves.

In this sense, it is entirely possible that Canadians are more rational or that Canadian public discourse is more rational in some respects than that of other societies.

What measures have Canadians taken to raise the level of the collective debate?

For American progressives who constantly complain about Fox News, my answer is that they should consider banning this TV channel. When I tell them that, they say, “Oh my God! But what are you talking about!” I then tell them that several countries have passed laws that make it impossible to operate a TV station like this.

In Canada, there are different broadcasting regulations and licenses that govern the operation of news channels. Moreover, in the United States, Fox News and certain radio stations [populistes] Drastic measures could not have been taken before 1986, as they do now. Before legislation similar to Canadian legislation was repealed, under the Reagan administration, Fox News’s development was not feasible.

In Canada, one of the really important events was the rejection of CRTC [en 2013] Require cable and satellite providers to include Sun Media in their primary TV offerings. This event is decisive. The CRTC decision almost wiped out this TV channel [qui s’est éteinte en 2015]. It was a huge victory for those who would like to adopt a more reasonable political discourse in Canada.

Is Quebec playing a role in making a more sensible rhetoric?

One of Quebec’s most important contributions is to reduce the influence of the United States on Canadian political life. Quebecers are more than willing to ignore rhetoric from the United States. It’s a very valuable service that they provide to the country – and we English Canadians thank them for it.

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Politically, it is always a winner for a political party to recruit in several districts at the same time. However, this strategy backfires against the populist right, insofar as it forces it to be popular in both Quebec and the rest of Canada. The problem is that the populist, xenophobic right in English Canada hates Quebecers, and the populist anti-xenophobic right in Quebec hates English Canadians.

It’s a bit like when the far-right parties in the European Union try to form alliances: It’s difficult, because they hate each other. Likewise, in Canada, if you try to recruit “Trumpin” voters from coast to coast, you will run into trouble because of bilingualism.

It is not a moral superiority on the part of Canadians. It is simply a structural feature of our policy.

Tomorrow: young people, fake news

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