It’s no secret that very little (if anything) the Canadian Government does actually originates organically from within this country. Typically, some international body or N.G.O. is responsible for setting it in motion. And efforts to combat misinformation online are no exception.
Activities like the Digital Citizen Initiative and Digital Citizen Contribution Program understandably raise questions. In a free and open society, should the Government be attempting to influence and manipulate public opinion on important topics? Why are we paying for this? And does this sort of thing end up doing an end run around democracy? (Not that we really have one)
All of that said, a more basic question needs to be asked:
Who’s really behind it?
Turns out that this stems from a 2018 agreement that received little coverage in the mainstream press. Here is how it’s explained on the Paris Call website.
The media grants to “safeguard democracy” are somewhat known in media and political circles. But what isn’t discussed is the international agreement done to make this happen.
Now, were any referendums or election campaigns ever held on joining some initiative like this? No. And it raises the question of who exactly will be setting the standards, enforcing the standards, and what kind of private information that will be shared.
Of course, Microsoft is involved in this project, because, why not?
As with all (or at least, most) agreements, this is considered non-binding. However, Government treats it as if it were a legitimate obligation. Now, what are the ideas behind this?
9 Principles of the Paris Call:
- Protect individuals and infrastructure
- Protect the Internet
- Defend electoral processes
- Defend intellectual property
- Lifecycle security & supply chain security
- Cyber hygiene
- No private hack back
- International Norms
On their own, these principles seem harmless, and in fact beneficial. But with all things, the details of how it would be implemented are worth looking at.
The Paris Call is supported by some 400 N.G.O.s and 700 private corporations, at least, according to recent updates on the site. That of course raises the question of who’s just there in a symbolic capacity, and who was actually involved in drafting these documents. They emphasize multi-stakeholder participation at the U.N., without really specifying.
Here, the Government uses taxpayer money to “combat harmful disinformation“. Now, it doesn’t (yet) call for the banning of certain viewpoints, but it does mean subsidizing and financing favourable ones.
This has led to the Digital Democracy Project and the “Media Literacy Week“, among other initiatives. The Federal Government is using taxpayer money to domestically implement an international agreement for cyberspace security.
The Digital Citizen Contribution Program was an initiative to hand out fairly large sums of money to “media influencers” that could potentially sway public opinion on a number of different topics.
The amounts and recipients of earlier grants were previously covered here. That addressed the DCCP, but was not exhaustive of these programs.
Yes, the Feds actually had a program to contract out influential people that could manipulate public opinion on the Ukraine-Russia situation. Is war propaganda ethical at all?
It’s not a stretch to see politicians go to the next level, and start banning or restricting viewpoints that contradict official narratives. It’s been talked out before.
One final point: let’s not pretend that this is limited to Trudeau or the Liberals. Had Stephen Harper been re-elected in 2015, he surely would have signed onto it.
(8) Paris Call Advancing International Norms
(9) Paris Call Text