It’s getting more than a little tedious. 

Almost every day now there’s a breathless news story or report in Canada on “fake news” or the vaguely defined phenomena of misinformation and disinformation. Some news outlets have even seconded full-time journalists to conduct investigations on the matter, holding these posts from now until – it seems – the October election.

They’re lengthy stories full of testimony of supposed experts in the field. Here’s the one big glaring problem with all of this though: Almost none of them ever offer up examples of actual damaging “fake news” that’s been unleashed in Canada in, say, the last six months.

I try to bring up this point whenever I’m on a radio or TV program and the question of “what do we do about fake news?” comes up. Back it up a bit, I say. Before we start discussing remedies and even regulations and fines, let’s first assess the severity of the problem.

It’s remarkable that we’re so deep into this conversation – to the point where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is going on about legal repercussions and news outlets are assigning beat reporters – yet it’s all entirely in the abstract. You can read an entire news feature on “fake news” and not once in the story will you read a genuine example of fake news.

It’s a big problem with this whole conversation. And to go on about fake news without really truly specifying anything is itself a version of fake news. Please, show us the evidence.

The only time I remember ever momentarily falling for fake news was a couple of days after the U.S. election. I saw a tweet by a news organization that I’d never heard of before claiming there had been a recount in certain states and that not only had Donald Trump won the electoral college but it was confirmed he’d now won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton. I was extremely doubtful but still clicked on the link. The website was a mess and the whole thing looked very unprofessional. I immediately concluded it was nonsense and shut the window. That was that. No real harm done.

Is this the sort of thing that we’re all supposed to be breathlessly on guard against? A blog posting false election results that is immediately apparent to any sane person only a few seconds after they click on it? If so, if that’s the problem we’re talking about here, it’s just not worth all of the fuss.

There are other real-life examples out there, but few of them have bearing on the average Canadian’s daily life. 

Like the case of how Canadian Forces operating in Eastern Europe as part of a NATO mission have been maligned as living in luxury, stealing booze and being led by convicted killer Russell Williams (he’s still in jail and will be for a long time). It’s all false and part of a Russian campaign to sow distrust in NATO. But it has nothing to do with domestic issues in Canada.

There are real cyber problems out there to worry about – like financial and identity thefts, cyber attacks on critical infrastructure and attempts to steal classified information. Maybe we should adjust our priorities accordingly.

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