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What’s happening online during this Canadian election?

September 17, 2019

It’s official: the fall and the election have truly arrived. The rain is pouring, the course I teach on digital media and politics is in full swing, and the campaign ads are coming fast and thick. 

Since Canada’s last federal election, we’ve seen countless stories about Russian disinformation, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, bots, deepfakes, and the Momo Challenge. Are these forms of digital manipulation likely to affect the current election? It’s hard to say, in part because too often we predict what will happen in Canada by extrapolating from developments in the U.S.

I’m therefore happy to be part of an unprecedented effort by researchers and journalists to study the digital media landscape in Canada during this election campaign. The Digital Ecosystem Research Challenge is helping to support 18 research projects, from Fenwick McKelvey’s Great Canadian Encyclopedia of Political Memes to a study of citizen engagement with environmental issues by Shelley Boulianne.

Together with my UBC colleague Heidi Tworek, I’m leading a study of the harassment and abuse that political candidates face online. We will be examining what kind of negative messaging they face, how it affects their work as public communicators, and what they do about it. We’re blessed with a terrific team for this project: Trevor Deley, Grace Lore, Erin Tolley, Jordan Buffie, Greg Eady and Maite Tabouda

I’m particularly keen to learn from political candidates themselves. For better or worse, many of them are already experts on this topic.

For instance, here is Calgary MP Michelle Rempel’s flowchart for dealing with inquiries and abuse she receives on Twitter.

Expect lots more from me on this topic in the coming months.

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