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Social media skepticism helping fuel distrust of the internet, survey finds

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OTTAWA — A new global survey suggests distrust of the internet is being fuelled by growing skepticism of social-media services like Facebook and Twitter.

One in four people who took part in the survey said they didn’t trust the internet, a view increasingly being driven by lack of confidence in social media, governments and search engines.   

The opinion research involved more than 25,000 internet users in 25 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

It was conducted by pollster Ipsos on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., in partnership with the Internet Society and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

The survey report says growing distrust in the internet prompted people to disclose less information in cyberspace, use the internet more selectively and buy fewer things online.

The results come amid widespread concern about fake news online and the duplicitous use of social media to influence democratic processes, including elections.

Three in four respondents were at least somewhat concerned about their online privacy. Overall, more than half of those surveyed were more concerned about their privacy compared to a year ago.

“They still trust the internet, in the majority, but I think there’s some storm clouds on the horizon,” said Eric Jardine, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech and a fellow at CIGI.

The survey was conducted between Dec. 21, 2018, and Feb. 10 of this year. The margin of error ranges from plus or minus 3.1 to 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, depending on whether the survey was done online or in person.

Among those who distrust the internet, 81 per cent cited cybercriminals as a reason. Seventy-five per cent pointed to social-media platforms, 66 per cent mentioned foreign governments, 66 per cent cited government generally and 65 per cent blamed search engines such as Google for the erosion of trust.

In Canada, social media was the leading source of internet distrust, cited by 89 per cent of people.

Almost nine in 10 surveyed said they had been fooled by fake news at least once. Facebook was the most commonly noted source of phoney news, followed by Twitter.

Ten per cent of Twitter users and nine per cent of Facebook users told the researchers they had closed their accounts in the last year as a direct result of fake news.

A majority of internet users expressed support for actions that governments and companies could take to fight fake news, from social media and video-sharing platforms taking down bogus posts, videos and accounts to adoption of automated content removal and even government censorship of content, the researchers say.

The federal government has repeatedly voiced concerns about the behaviour of social-media services, particularly their role in hosting dangerous content related to violent extremism and child exploitation.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale discussed the problem Monday in Washington with U.S. acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.

“Both we and the Americans fully agree we need to develop the technologies to take down the offensive material and, as much as possible, prevent it from going up in the first place,” Goodale said in an interview after the meeting.

Social-media companies use sophisticated algorithms to manipulate and use the personal information of people on their platforms, he noted.

“Those algorithms need to be more transparent than they are today,” Goodale said. “These are the business models by which the companies make their profits, but they’re also the tools by which they entice people down some very dark and dangerous pathways.”

—Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mario Dion could testify to a parliamentary committee as early as Wednesday afternoon about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, the NDP’s Charlie Angus says.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion had said he would make himself available to testify when MPs meet, but Angus said he spoke to the chair of the committee to ensure that would be an option.

Angus said Dion would likely appear by video conference.

“I am hoping, and I expect that, Mr. Dion will be able to provide testimony … and then we can finally get some clear answers,” Angus said.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against the Montreal engineering giant.

For his part, Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, Dion’s findings and was acting to protect Canadian jobs.

In his report, Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t get all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” Angus said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble: “He needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency committee meeting to be held early Wednesday afternoon. Agreeing to invite Dion to appear would mean keeping the SNC-Lavalin controversy in the headlines as MPs gear up for the Oct. 21 election.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.  

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

The Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

It is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law, Angus said.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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