Lying on the campaign trail: immediate dismissal?
It isn’t new to spread fake news during an election campaign. Smear campaigns, mud-slinging, inaccuracies, boilerplate, false promises are, at a low level, almost acceptable during campaign periods. This isn’t to say it is okay; clearly, lying is not acceptable. But we might look at multiple, small lies as unavoidable as mosquitoes.
Elections Canada needs to do a better job at ensuring that lying candidates and their official supporters (volunteers, party members) are sanctioned for lying. For starters, they should be kicked off the campaign immediately.
The Bulletin team organized two all-candidates’ debates, interviewed the candidates and interviewed plenty of voters. At every level there were untrue statements, half-truths, and clear lies. Not every candidate uttered falsehoods, but some did. And all exaggerated. Not every volunteer sounded warning bells, but some did. And not every voter repeated fake news as if it were true, but some did.
And if a busy small newspaper team such as the Bulletin’s can uncover the lie, so could Elections Canada.
Online, in social media platforms, the lying is both more common and easier to track – and more easily sanctioned. In the week before the vote, for example, tools were up on the internet that looked like non-partisan aids to help undecided voters. They resembled “Vote Compass” or other legitimately independent tools to help voters decide, based on riding trends, polls, and personal beliefs. But the fake tools out there were both made to look impartial and to funnel the outcome in favour of the paying party supporter.
Most voters are savvy enough to spot the fake, but not all. Online “influencers” are people with a wide social-media network hired to promote parties, brands or ideas. They are often hired to promote cosmetics, but have been used in this election campaign, and are less easy to spot as generators of fake news. Influencers are really useful to help promote the vote in general, and even more useful for pushing party lines. But if they don’t self-disclose, they become part of the lying class, one that needs to be sanctioned by Elections Canada. Out they go!
Lucky for democracy, online liars are easier to track down than those who spread fake news by word of mouth or during debates. Sure, harm is done as soon as the message gets out. But it wouldn’t take more than one election campaign cycle with this “strike one and you’re out” rule. In fact, it could be hilarious if campaign workers were disqualified with their first lie; this last election campaign might have been cancelled altogether!
In the leaders’ debates, lies were obvious. And what kind of campaign would Canada have with only half the leaders? An honest one?