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Opinion Fake news is bad for Canadians and Google alike – and here’s how we’ll fight it

Richard Gingras is the vice-president of News at Google. Colin McKay is the head of government policy for Google Canada.

“Fake news is as old as Confederation.” That’s the assessment of the former editor-in-chief of Maclean’s, Robert Lewis, who has written a book on the partisan journalism of Canada’s early Parliament. Long before TV and radio – let alone social media – Canadians were reading torqued coverage in newspapers tightly controlled by political parties.

But while misinformation is not new to the Canadian political landscape, the digital age presents new challenges.

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The open internet has essentially put a printing press in everyone’s hands, enabling them to create, connect and distribute information as never before. It has democratized knowledge, increasing access to information for everyone. But, like other communication channels, the internet is vulnerable to the organized propagation of false or misleading information. As consumers of news, our capacity to recognize misinformation when we see it is essential. Equally important is how companies such as Google address concerns over misinformation or so-called “fake news.” It has an effect on Canadian society. This holds especially true in an election year.

Misinformation directly affects Google and our mission – to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. When our services are used to spread deceptive information, that mission and the trust users have is undermined. Our approach to tackling misinformation in our products is based on three key strategies: elevating quality content in our algorithmic ranking systems; giving users more context around the information they’re seeing; and combatting bad actors. Google has multiple internal teams working to identify malicious political-influence operations wherever they originate. We cut off advertising revenue, disable these accounts and share threat information with other companies and law-enforcement officials when appropriate.

Fair elections are fundamental to the health of democracy and we take our work – to protect elections, to comply with election advertising laws and to provide relevant civic information – seriously. For the duration of the 2019 federal election campaign, Google will not accept regulated political ads and we have a team in place that will monitor our services to enforce our policies and work to prevent abuse of our systems. We are also focusing efforts on supporting Canadian news-literacy programs and connecting people to useful and relevant election-related information. As in Canada’s previous federal election, Google is partnering with Elections Canada and Canadian news organizations to make sure citizens know how to vote and where they can find essential information about candidates on the ballot. We will also support the live-streaming of candidate debates on YouTube and the creation of a YouTube channel dedicated to election coverage that will draw on news outlets, among other authoritative sources. Our aim is to ensure Canadians are informed and engaged on the issues that matter most in the campaign.

Our work to address misinformation is not limited to Google’s products and services. Indeed, many organizations play a vital role in addressing this challenge, such as newsrooms, fact-checkers and civil-society organizations. That is one of the reasons why we created the Google News Initiative, which dedicates significant resources to supporting quality journalism and related efforts in this space. Today, as we mark World News Day, the GNI announced a $1-million grant to the Canadian Journalism Foundation to create a national news-literacy campaign to reach voting-age Canadians called NewsWise, which will build on the success of its namesake program already being delivered by the CJF and Civix (the team behind Student Vote) which is reaching more than one million Canadian students across the country. We’re funding these programs because we believe it’s critical that Canadians of all ages understand how to find and filter authoritative information online.

We understand misinformation is not a solved problem, nor will it ever be as long as there are malicious actors seeking to deceive others. While Google has always fought against such efforts, it’s never been more important to thwart them and ensure we provide our users with access to the quality information they require. As Canada heads to the polls this fall, we will do all we can to ensure that our users have the information they need to be good citizens. It’s important to maintaining the trust of our users and maintaining their faith in Canadian democracy.

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